by Leila Viss
The possible materials available for your lab are almost endless. The lists provided in past articles (Article 1, Article 2, Article 3) are meant to help you sift through your options (not to overwhelm!). However, once you invest in sites and/or software, it can be difficult to assign appropriate activities to your students. Thankfully, there are resources that can help. In addition, only your imagination will limit the possible ways to use lab time.
Resources for Correlating Lab Assignments to your Lesson Instruction
Provisions by Websites and Software
MusicLearningCommunity offers various options for you to aid your lab time. When you subscribe, a Teacher Resource Center is available that provides:
- Assignment sheets that support many popular method books. Click to see the list of method books that are matched with the website’s games. Here’s a sample sheet for Hal Leonard’s Library Book 1.
- A Teacher’s Guide for the website’s designated levels. Sample.
- A customizable Assignment sheet for you to complete yourself.
Tonic Tutor also provides many ways to manage and customize assignments for your pianists. You can group students into similar levels and…
- Set individual goals
- Create report cards
- Send messages to students
- Record student progress
- Track students’ scores and longterm progress
- Find incentives for receiving various website rewards
- and more!
Theta Music Trainer, again offers ways to track and manage progress and provides sequential lesson plans for four fundamental categories: Rhythm, Melody, Harmony and Sound. As the site is geared towards those interested in playing in pop and rock bands, the focus is more on listening than reading. Courses offered include Basic Ear Training, Music Theory and Sound. Training and progress reports provide feedback for the student and you.
Obviously, these sites have made it easy for you to design level-based assignments, and most software programs do as well. I have chosen not to go into detail about each one here but once you invest in software, support for record keeping and lesson planning is provided. Music Ace recently configured its lessons for Hal Leonard’s Student Piano Library Books 1-5 which is called Piano Ace. Hopefully this excellent partnership is a start of a new trend as many software programs have not been designed to work in tandem with most lesson books.
Provisions by Double Click Curriculum
This series of books DOES correlate a vast array of software programs with the most popular piano methods. Michelle Sisler began this project quite some time ago and continues to carefully match website and software games and lessons with every page of more and more leading methods. You will be equipped with assignments that reinforce exactly what is discussed in lessons. Investing in this curriculum results in little lab prep-time for you as the work has been done already. If you use Celebrate Piano, a co-author for the correlating Double Click Curriculum happens to be me. It was a very tedious task (Michelle is VERY particular–which is good) and I can vouch for the fact that diligent efforts were made to pair appropriately-leveled lab assignments for your students.
Studio Themes and Units
Perhaps my favorite part of holding a lab is that it inspires me to design meaningful musical experiences for the entire student roster. Preparing a theme-based lab assignment for all to complete can build camaraderie among students as they pass in and out of lessons.
1) Candy Dish Themes
I reserve the right to spoil my students and therefore, I always have a full candy dish and students are allowed to choose one piece before they leave. I decided that they should “earn” the candy by answering a question before they choose. Here are two examples of “questions” that involved lab time:
- Irish Music: To celebrate St Patty’s Day, students read up on Irish instruments, pictures of the instruments were featured as my computer screen saver and all were assigned to watch a small portion of “River Dance“. It was amazing as most had never seen “River Dance” before (although I do have some fine Irish Dancers as students). Before they left with candy, they had to name one Irish instrument.
- Composer’s Birthdays: In celebration of major composers, I pull out Piano Explorer Magazines or find a YouTube video providing a brief bio of the composer. For Liszt, students watched stunning performances of Liszt’s La Campanella. They were mesmerized. On the way out the door, students had to provide Liszt’s name, state his musical time period and one fact they learned about him.
A designated studio unit lasting for a week, a month… seems to infuse my teaching with purpose and creativity and provides a common link between lessons (and group lessons) and students of all ages. Here’s some units used so far:
- Let’s Have a “Bass” Ball: So many students feel insecure about the bass clef so, about one month’s worth of lab time and a group lesson were dedicated to building confidence in reading the bass clef. I created a lab sheet that assembled all the bass clef note name and sight reading drills and lessons I could find within my websites and software programs. I also designed “off the bench” activities with my cloth staff, alphabet lids, iPad, etc.
- Rhythm: Make it Count: Fall is ensemble time in the studio which means counting and rhythmic skills need a brush up. Having the entire studio focus on this subject makes it that much more fun to plan activities. Here’s an older blog that I republished explaining the various planned activities.
- Candy Count: More recently, I took advantage of Valentine’s candy and focused on counting with candy–seems to be easier for students to master counting if candy is involved.
- Major Minors: Do your students like minor pieces as much as mine? It seemed appropriate to celebrate minor pieces during the month of October. Students listened to a specific iTunes playlist and were asked to rate their opinion of each minor-key piece from 1 – 5 stars on a sheet I created. As they listened they also read a brief bio about each composer. Included in the playlist were numerous tracks from Beethoven’s Wig, larger piano works and intermediate piano selections such as Solfeggieto by CPE Bach and Arabesque by Burgmueller. In addition, this was a great time to review how to hear, play and spell minor scales, minor triads…
- Baroque Dances: Like the unit above, students listened, but this time to various Baroque dances, read about them in Piano Explorer Magazine articles and watched various YouTube re-enactments of dances with historical costumes. Maurice Hinson’s DVD Baroque Performance Practices features a segment on how to dance the Minuet. A group lesson wrapped up this unit and after watching this video, 8th grade boys were dancing the Minuet, quite gracefully I might add.
- The Inside Scoop: It is important for pianists to know their instrument so every year I make a point of exploring the inside of the piano. I found a wonderful resource this year to aid with lab activities
- Paintin’ the Blues: Another yearly activity is pulling out the 12-bar blues framework. Click here to see everyone paint their own picture of this staple framework of American music. (This is very similar to the Jingle Bells unit I planned at Christmas time inspired by Wendy!)
- Summer Lessons: It is a priority to offer a variety of options for the summer. Without going into detail now, I use the online sites already listed for various lessons and camps (click here for more details.). A composition course is offered as well and I have had great success with MuseScore. It is easy to learn and has helped many young composers create professional-looking compositions.
- Recently, all students practiced sight reading with Wendy’s carefully leveled sight-reading exercises. Corresponding lab assignments from various software and websites provided further sight reading exercises to reinforce skills.
- After reading www.composecreate.com’s April newsletter, I thought of designing a unit on inversions–everyone in the studio learns the same chant at the same time, never to be forgotten. Or why not correlate rhythm drills for lab time while using Wendy’s Rhythm Menagerie?
It is very important to me that each student arrives to every lesson with anticipation, learns something new and leaves with a smile. Perhaps you will catch the bug that I have (you probably have it already!)–it is so much fun dreaming of new ways to keep that piano bench AND the lab chair warm with happy, engaged students. The last article will wrap up loose ends, provide answers to any questions these articles accumulate along the way, and give one more strong but gentle nudge to get on the “lab” wagon.
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