Want to implement improvisation in music class? No problem! Here’s five ideas on how to implement improvisation in music class.
Elementary music teachers don’t have much time with their students. But, here’s some ideas music teachers can use to implement more improvisation opportunities in music class.
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 knock 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.”
Next, I ask half the chorus to chant; “the mouse is in the trash clap, clap” as the other half sings the verse “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.”
Is that improvisation?
I think so!
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!
IDEAS TO IMPLEMENT IMPROVISATION IN MUSIC CLASS
Here are some ideas on how to implement improvisation in music class.
BUILD SKILLS IN THE BASICS
Oh how I wish I saw my students every day! It’s difficult to break down concepts into small steps when you only see them once a week, 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. Creating a framework for your entire year- a scope and sequence- will provide your students with the lessons they need to have acquired basic skills.
BEGIN WITH BEAT
I begin teaching the Beat the very first week of school. Students walk on the beat, move on the beat and (experience) playing the beat during the various activities I use to teach classroom procedures, learn names and establish routines like walking into the music room.
This lesson combines beat with movement.
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.
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!
After students are able to perform the beat without your direction. Tell them you are going to make up a rap.
Ask the students to give you some ideas for subject matter. Then have them play the beat by patting knees or on hand drums.
Then you (if you can) improvise a short rap on the topic.
Here’s a hint- take a familiar song like “Rain, Rain Go Away” and change the words.
Use easy rhyming words at the end with long “a” and “e” sounds.
Pizza, pizza come my way.
I can eat you every day.
(It doesn’t have to be a #1 Billboard hit!)
Repeat it several times, bringing some students to your side and having them help you do the rap.
Then, you can ask students to create their own rap by changing the word pizza for something else.
Now before you say; “That’s not improvisation!” hold on-
It’s a step towards improvisation.
It’s a primary level learning experience.
And, it’s a good way to empower students to be thinking about improvising their own songs.
You can purchase this lesson with 10 activity ideas that teach rhythm, beat, melody and Ostinato. It’s a perfect way to implement improvisation in music class.
MOVE ON TO RHYTHMS
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 body movements!
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 and it’s a great way to implement improvisation in music class.
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.
These types of activities help your students connect learning with body movement. And they develop confidence too!
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COMBINE RHYTHM AND 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!
Understandably, 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–.
Alternatively, relate learning music 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.
Ultimately, this will help students relax and give improvisation a try.
This is a fun Kodaly Song. “Snail, Snail “. You could teach this song and then let students change the melody and the rhythm of the words “turn around” to dive below, crawl around, run along, climb up high.
Use pictures of other animals, have students brain storm movement and then have them change the song.
Or, have them create an Ostinato in the moment without grouping them together.
MORE IDEAS TO IMPLEMENT IMPROVISATION IN MUSIC CLASS.
BEAN BAG GAME
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 “Snail, Snail”, I would have them improvise on the second line. Example: “sliding in your slimy path.”
CREATE AN ENCOURAGING ATMOSPHERE
Most importantly, you’ll want to create an encourage atmosphere in your music classroom.
Finally, providing TIME for improvisation in music class.
What kinds of improvisation activities do you do in your classroom?
How do you instill confidence in your students to improvise?
I’m hoping this article gives you some ideas on providing improvisation opportunities in music class with your students.
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