Playing a musical alphabet game is a great way to reinforce the concept of reading music. Younger piano students also love to do any activities ‘off the piano bench’, don’t they?
Alphabet Game for Piano
Teaching the Musical Alphabet
One of my favourite piano games helps my beginner students to learn the musical alphabet using a set of foam letter blocks.
I encourage them to trace over the letters, put the letter blocks in the correct order, place them one at a time on the piano keys (having picked them randomly from my bag) octave by octave – students see how the letters can be read backwards through the alphabet. These are only a few of the ideas that could be used.
One of the biggest challenges students face when playing guitar is learning how to strum correctly. They usually have a favorite song they’d love to learn how to play but when they sit down to try and figure it out it just doesn’t sound right. Every time they try it, the strum sounds all herky-jerky instead of smooth and flowing. Sound familiar?
Before we get started, be sure to open this PDF: Keys To Strumming, which I’ll be referring to throughout this post. If you’re wondering what chords to play during this lesson, click here to use any to use any of the common-tone chord shapes I wrote about.
THE QUARTER NOTE BOUNCE
It’s fairly easy to teach a student how to play the quarter-note strumming pattern in Fig. 1 (Keys To Strumming PDF). All you have to do is play a down-strum on every count (or beat). Every time you strum down, you count 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. But there’s really more going on here. Once the down-strum is played, you have to lift your hand back up to prepare for the next down-strum, right? This down-up movement of the strumming hand is more accurately represented by eighth notes. Look at Fig. 1 again. The arrows above the staff, hovering over each down beat and up beat, represent those eighth notes. In other words, you should be counting “one and two and three and four and” as you strum down, up, down, up, etc. This steady down-up strumming movement is what I call The Quarter Note Bounce. Read more…
Group classes are a great way to reach more students, multiply your time and promote your studio. I taught a group vocal class over the summer (Group Classes) and a group guitar class. Find the first two guitar class posts here (Group Guitar part 1 ) and here (Group Guitar part 2).
What I cover in weeks 5-8:
-how to tell the key of a song
-transposing, review how to make your own chord charts, and the 3/4 strum
-the “Happy Birthday” song. You’d be surprised how many accompanists I’ve met who can’t play it!
-another parody I wrote for this class, with only 2 chords, to the tune of “Clementine”. This one I personalized with their names and some positive traits:
1. In a church one sultry summer, round a table sat The Six: sore fingers, sore brains, but they strummed their acoustics.
2. Guitars ready, keep it steady, press your fingers till they bleed. Making music is so fun! What more in life could you need?
3. Play the 2/4, play it over and over again. “Almost got it,” says the teacher, “Take a little rest.” But then…
4. …comes another even harder, will we ever get it right? Now the strings are out of tune, but do I loosen or turn it tight?
5. There is Jerry, always ready, and Malea’s cheerful grin, Leslie’s great dry sense of humor; Robin says, “Play it again.”
6. Asia strums and Doris hums and Gavin, fearless, forward goes. By the end of this guitar class, every one of them will be pros!
What I choose to review and for how long depends on how they did at the last lesson, and what I think they need:
-the 4/4 strum and appropriate songs
-a demonstration that 2/4 and 4/4 strums can be interchangeable
Note: whenever I introduce new chords or strum, I choose songs with as few chord changes as possible. I aim for a good mix of musical styles and tempos.
I sing the melodies until they can. Sometimes I say the strum aloud: DOWN, downup downup downup—and we pause at the chord changes until they have their fingers in place. Once most have the hang of it, I make sure to do parts of the songs slowly and parts quickly to accommodate all class members. It’s equally frustrating whether you can’t keep up, or you’re being kept from going as fast as you are able, so I do some for both.
Last month in Part 1, I explained how learning just 4 chord shapes that shared common tones, and using a capo could get your students up and running and able to play lots of songs in multiple keys. I promised to expand the concept to include a few more chords. So let’s get started!
In Part 1, I used the basic open position chords for G, C, D, and Em – the 1, 4, 5, and 6m chords. Let’s expand that now to include all the degrees of the major scale. The root note of each chord below, in the “basic chords” diagram, represents each degree of the major scale. The result is a “chord scale.” Just like you can assign a number to the degree in the scale, you can assign a number to the degrees in the chord scale. If you play through the chords in order from 1 through 8, you’ll hear the major scale – the root notes ARE the scale! A quick aside here, I highly recommend teaching the chord shape I use for the 5/7 chord, D/F#. There’s a huge pay-off in terms of future learning a super-valuable, movable chord shape. More on that in a future post.
I thought I’d share something I call The Capo Common-Tone Chord Concept with you in this month’s article. This is something I use with great success to get new guitar students ready to play music quickly. In my role as worship director at my church it’s been an indispensable tool in getting new guitar students up and running on the worship team. The first chords most guitarists learn are G, C, D, and Em. In the key of G, these chords cover the 1 – 4 – 5 – 6m chords that are found in most folk, pop, and rock songs.
After I teach these basic chords, I usually teach my students a special voicing concept for G, C, D, and Em that is used more widely in the music they really want to play. After that, I show them how to use the capo and suddenly they’re able to play a lot of music in a lot of different keys! One of the things that used to frustrate me as a guitarist is when I would buy a piece of sheet music only to discover later that the guitar chord diagrams don’t show that actual chord voicings that are being played on the original recording of the song! That frustration worsened if the song was in a non-friendly guitar key like Ab, Bb, or B. Even if I learned how to play a Bb barre chord, it never sounded like the guitar in the original recording. I knew something else was going on that the sheet music wasn’t telling me. It was only when I discovered this common-tone chord concept that I learned what was actually happening! Here’s how the Capo Common-Tone Chord Concept works:
Place your 3rd and 4th fingers (fretting hand) on the 1st and 2nd strings at the 3rd fret as shown in the diagram below (circled in red). These two notes (D and G) are the “common tones” that will remain the same for all 4 chords.
Since the 3 & 4 fingers stay in the same place for all 4 chord shapes, the 1 & 2 fingers are the only fingers to that move. Look at the 1 & 2 fingers in the G chord. Notice how they move one string over to create the Cadd9 chord. Very simple movement!
To make the Dsus4 chord, the 1 & 2 fingers split on either side of the 2nd string (like they do in a regular D chord).
Finally, the 1 & 2 fingers land on the 5th & 4th strings to make the Em7 chord.
How to apply this concept: Let’s say your chord progression is Em – C – G – D. Try playing the common tone voicings instead of the basic chord forms. For instance, if you see a C chord in your chart, play the Cadd9 voicing instead. When you see D, play the Dsus4 instead. If you come across a C2 (Csus2), the Cadd9 is going to sound great. This approach might drive a music theory purist crazy – but to most ears all these voicing are going to sound great. Try it! In the diagram below, I show you how to easily change the G chord into a G5,a.k.a. G(no3), by removing the 1 finger. (The 5th string gets muted by the 2nd finger.) Now, move the 2nd finger over one string and your Cadd9 becomes a legitimate Csus2 because the 3rd of the chord (that was previously played at the 2nd fret of the 4th string) is now muted. I love the jangly sound of those treble strings! But wait! There’s more!Arming yourself with a capo, the guitarist’s top accessory (behind a tuner of course), enables you to use these common-tone shapes to play in at lease 5 more common keys! No more going into cardiac arrest when you’re called upon to play a song in Bb (or Ab, B, etc.)! Just slap your capo on at the 3rd fret and play your common-tone shapes! Try this experiment: Play the following chord progression using the basic open Key of G shapes - C – G – Em – D. Try playing the same progression substituting the common-tone shapes. Now put your capo at the 3rd fret and play those same shapes. You’re playing C – G – Em – D shapes, but sounding Eb – Bb – Gm – F. I’m betting both you and your students will love the sound of the common-tone chords and find the concept very, very useful, especially when transposing. When first learning this concept, it may help to write your transposed chord shapes over the existing chord names in your chart. After a while, you’ll begin to recognize them and you’ll no longer need to write them in…you’ll be able to transpose in your head! In my next post, I’ll expand this concept to include some inversions. Read more…
They’re not all the same but every now and again you meet a teenager determined to fit the stereotype. With so much hair over their face you’re not actually sure what they look like, their shoulders are dropped so low their hands are practically touching the floor and all questions are met with an obligatory “dunno” response (if you’re lucky)!
Were we ever like that? I’m sure many of today’s finest musicians had their moments as teenagers and I would like to just say that many of the teenagers I’ve taught have been highly “switched on” and motivated. But how can we inspire even the most apathetic student?
Enter something I’ve been trying out I call “Music Lesson Circuit Training!”
Now I need at this point to warn you that Read more…
My most recent favorite app is called Decide Now–only 99 cents! Although it’s not a music-related app it is so easy to customize that you won’t be able to stop using it. A game of Piano Charades is just one example of how I implement this versatile app to reinforce music terminology by students acting out Italian terms at the keys. Here are the steps:
1) Call out words such as: piano, forte, fermata, ritardando, presto, largo, etc. and nudge students to act them out physically. This means YOU need to do it, too. For example: piano could be walking on tip toes while ritardando could be jogging in place and gradually slowing down the pace–like a train approaching a station.
2) After all terms are physically re-enacted, have the students jot down each term to review the spelling and the definition. If they are youngsters, have them draw a picture instead of writing out the definition. Ex: ritardando could be represented with a train engine.
3) Ask a volunteer to play one phrase of a well-prepared piece as the composer intended.
4) The performer must spin the wheel featuring all the terms just reviewed without letting the others see where the Wheel-of-Fortune-like spinner stops. Read more…
“Can I hear your progress on that song we were working on last week please?”
He just shrugged his shoulders and looked at me sheepishly!
“Oh okay then. How about those exercises we were doing? Can I hear how you got on with them?”
He just looked at his feet!
“Oh dear! What HAVE you been practicing?”
Suddenly a mischievous grin appeared on his face.
“I’ve been playing the blues ALL week!!! It’s been driving my mum crazy. I play it before and after school. I can’t stop!”
It never ceases to amaze me how much fun students have at learning to improvise the blues. And not forgetting the kudos it earns them when they can use it to entertain friends and family. Best of all, it’s just so easy to learn!
So this month, here are some free resources to get you started or to add to the ones you use already. I’ve tried to make the sheet music universal to whatever instrument you play or teach (treble & bass clef/guitar & bass tab). I’ve also recorded a slow blues backing track (in G) that you and your students can “jam” with.
Introducing the coolest scale on the planet! Whatever instrument your student plays, they will love learning the Read more…
We dread it, but we’ve all seen it: the face that tells you unequivocally that your students are lost and haven’t got a clue what is going on. This can happen suddenly, and sometimes in the most unexpected places. Picture this scenario:
My lesson or class has been rolling along smoothly, and I’ve felt encouraged by the odd head nodding, or some gentle smiles tentatively creasing passive faces. I’ve smiled myself, warming to my subject, and then I’ve taken the fatal step. ‘And that’s how we know that the composer is modulating!’, I swoon. ‘She’s been hinting for the last two systems with those occasional B-flats and now we know from this arpeggio followed by the cadence: we are in F-major!’. My revelation is met with silence, which is not what I expected. A hand shoots up, breaking the still pool of now immobile faces. ‘Why is it F-major and not F-flat major?’. ‘What?!’ I think, and try not to frown. ‘Can you explain what you mean?’, I say. ‘I thought you said those were the “flat keys”, so why isn’t it F-flat major?’. ‘Because F isn’t flat,’ I reply. Faces go blank and a thick pause of unknowing oozes across the classroom. Heads drop and a faint voice cries into its sleeve, ‘I don’t get it!’ and (since this is the film version) all the desks start shrinking backwards away from the teacher and disappear into a black abyss at the back of the room….
It would be my guess that every music teacher reading this will have experienced at least some version of this same scenario. It can happen with children, teenager, or adult students, and, although it looks like the moment of catastrophe was caused by what I’ve called ‘one fatal step’ instructionally speaking, of course, these scenarios represent a series of moments of unknowing coming to a head. The student who asked this question (and it is a real question asked me in a class just last year) must have experienced many moments in previous classes when he hadn’t understood what was going on but hadn’t said anything. At the same time, I will have been happily piling concept after concept on top of this student without realizing that he hadn’t understood what was going on.
How can it happen that we sometimes unwittingly leave our students behind? And is there anything we can do to help those students who find the theoretical side of music difficult, or are some people simply ‘more musical’ than the others, who will always at some point get left behind? Read more…