I’ve mentioned to several teachers that Piano Olympics is a great theme for summer camps this year.  Leila Viss recently gave me permission to post her article on the many creative things she is doing this year during her own Piano Olympics.  Even if you are not doing piano camp this year, she has some great ideas for summer lessons!

Piano Olympics – Summer Camp Ideas

by Leila Viss

The idea of Piano Olympics was “born” three years ago when I was organizing ALL the games I enjoy using to teach music theory. There never seems to be enough time to use these during the year so I thought why not put them to good use during the summer months.

Summary:

Olympians…

1) earn tickets by winning…

  • indoor games
  • outdoor games

2) earn tickets by completing

  • various activities in class
  • assignments at home

3) earn gold, silver and bronze medals by

  • accumulating the most tickets (or points)
  • accumulating a certain amount of tickets determined by the Camp Coach (teacher)

4) eat delicious snacks

Format

1) Groups of 2-4 students of similar ages and playing levels

2) Ideal for ages 6-12 maybe 13?

Schedule and Fee:

1) The past two years: Piano Olympics included 4 classes, 75 min in length 4 days in a row, $125 per camper regardless of enrollment.

2) This year, I am trying four 90-min classes over 2 weeks. Will be interested to see which I prefer. $150/4 per class, $160/3 per class, $170/2 per class.

Themes

1) Olympic Flag Rings (Year One): The goal was to focus on theory concepts that would benefit a specific group.  Ex: order of sharps, circle of keys, key signatures, intervals, note names, chords…Each day was a different color of the Olympic flag and each student “owned” a certain color so that tickets were easy to keep and count, colored camp folders were easy to find…It was my first year so I kept it quite basic.

2) Olympic Countries (Year Two): Same as above, but each camp day focused on a different country. This inspired daily themes for snacks, solo and ensemble music, theory elements, and more. Ex: Students found Mexico on a world map, identified its flag, played the Mexican Hat Dance and enjoyed chocolate milk and “Fritos” for a snack.

3) Going to the Movies (Year Three): Hit movie soundtracks will be in the spotlight. Students will choose one movie theme to learn/play and will be challenged to create his/her own movie theme. Studying the use of melody, harmony and rhythm by great composers such as Williams, Zimmerman, Silvestri…will determine the selection of games and activities for each day. Just for fun, I will encourage students to “dress the part” and wear their favorite movie costume/attire–thinking about Disney, Sci-Fi, Super Heroes, Harry Potter, Muppets, Camper’s Choice?

Activities

1) Indoor Games

  • Olympic events are planned for each day that review rhythm, pitch, harmony.  Indoor games acquired over the years from Music Educator’s Marketplace and TCW are always fun and sometimes quirky but always helpful to lock in key concepts.
  • This year I know I will take advantage of my Eggspert (recommended here by Wendy) and play a round of Jeopardy. See blog for more details.
  • Click here for a list of common household games that could be used for Olympic events.

2) Off the Bench

  • Homemade events to teach/review certain concepts included notation of various elements on dry erase flash cards
  • Body Beat cards
  • Crazy rhythm antics that require squeaky toys, balloons and fly swatters
  • Lids and straws for rhythmic notation…
  • Sometimes, I set up various stations for mastering scales–one notates the assigned scale on a dry erase board, one spells it with music blocks (from Music Educator’s Marketplace), one plays it on the piano, while another spells it with alphabet cards. A new scale is assigned and all switch stations. A ticket is awarded if everyone spell/plays/notates the given scale correctly.

3) On the Bench

  • The first year I created an Olympic Musical Theme that all were required to learn and we played it each day as an “opener.”
  • The second year, I found folks songs from 4 countries and each day we sight read them and students were asked to master a favorite by the end of camp (another way to earn tickets). Thanks to a Clavinova and MIDI, campers were able to keep a solid tempo as they played together and and the orchestration helped to  ”dress up” the ensemble.
    Piano Olympic Theme by Leila Viss Studio

4) Outdoor Games

  • These are generally homemade as well and include pylons and large alphabet letters.
  • Beginner Olympians may be asked to run and place the “A” card by the first pylon, then the next camper must run and place the “B” at the next pylon etc.trying to beat the clock in a relay race. If this is easy, ask Olympians to arrange A-G by skips, backwards…
  • A horseshoe game from the $1 Target bin provides great training for any Olympian (harder than you might think!)  Students identify a triad flash card, if correct, he/she receives 3 horse shoes to throw at the stake. If they throw a “ringer”, the camper receives a ticket.
  • This year I am eager to use some “Minute to Win It” games, not sure which ones and what concepts will be drilled but it will be fun, I’m sure. Here’s a list of one music teacher‘s ideas.
5) Assignments for Home
  • From August- May, all students have weekly piano lessons and a lab session. (Click here for more information about adding a lab to your lessons.) Many websites offer terrific games to master essential theory elements, so Olympians are assigned to be completed at home. Of course, if completed, the Olympian can earn more tickets. Here’s part of a Score Card from 2011.
  • Solo and ensemble selections are assigned for practice at home along with technical exercises that help campers master theory concepts at the keys.

Suggestions:

  • Determine outcomes that you wish to see for YOUR Studio. Design as many activities as possible to reinforce these concepts so they “stick” for a lifetime or at least until next fall!
  • Provide opportunities for students to enjoy new music and allow them choices of what to learn/play during the camp so they continue to build playing and reading skills.
  • Serve great snacks–they are CRUCIAL to your success! I stop for a snack break mid-way through the class.
  • Decide if ALL students are eligible for a gold medal with a certain amount of points/tickets or, if only one person can win. Make sure to offer a silver and bronze medal in keeping with the Olympic tradition.
  • Be generous. Although Olympic games are meant to be competitive, this is so much more about learning and not about competing. However, it is fun to reward those who go above and beyond those requirements.
  • A good cyber friend of mine began holding Piano Olympics for her large studio and we continue to exchange ideas for our Piano Olympics. I am so thankful for her creativity. Michelle Sisler always has ideas above and beyond. Last year she posted Olympic Rings in her front lawn and her husband  built platforms for the “Closing Ceremonies”. This year she’s talking red carpet, paparazzi, Oscars–you name it.
  • Both of us purposely stay on a budget. If interested in this camp format, you have a choice to keep it as simple as you want. You are only limited by your imagination–oh, and of course your time and pocket book. Let me assure you that your efforts will be worth it–my students are always excited for Piano Olympics!

Summer is a great time to “change things up”, why not live the Olympic dream (like all those athletes and fans in London)?

Do you hold summer camps? Do you think they benefit your students? Please share your ideas and comments.


Don’t you think Leila has fabulous ideas? Here’s a link to her blog where you’ll find many more!

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