Teaching Dynamics: Linking the Visual Arts to Music

Finding the perfect words to express what you mean and make the concept understandable to young students can be a challenge. When we finally figure out how to express our ideas, we tend to repeat these phrases over and over again.

I have been enhancing my students performances with dynamics (p, mp, mf, f) for many years.  I have accomplished this with two strategies:

1) Define Terms – I teach students to pronounce the terms and defined them.

1) Demonstrate – I play examples and explain the terms. Mezzo Forte (mf) is easy. You don’t need to work hard to play soft or to play loud. Mezzo Piano (mp) and Forte (f) are more challenging because they require extra effort. Piano (p) requires the most effort.

Nothing special here. It has worked well enough, but it was difficult to achieve artistry-level performances with grade school students… until now.

For the past 5-6 years I’ve been taking art lessons, and decided to see if a connection between art and music might help my music students play their music in a much more expressive way.

I introduced value.

Value refers to the visible lightness or darkness of a color, and is one of the most important design elements in a work of art.

So, how does this relate to music?

The following chart shows the four most common dynamic levels and assigns a value to each of them.

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I found that drawing a box above a section of the music, and shading it with the appropriate value, gave students a visual indication of how loud or soft the phrase should be played. A light turned on for my students and it transformed their performances.

In some instances, you might draw a box above a four measure phrase and that will be enough. Other pieces are so well written, and your students so capable, that you might want to dig a little deeper -adding value boxes above individual notes.

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Learn to Write Music – Book and Music Notation Apps

Most kids won’t grow up to be music composers. However, the opportunity to compose or arrange music shouldn’t be overlooked as it will bring a richness of understanding to their musical experience that you just can’t get any other way.

I started writing and arranging music is high school, and my band director had the jazz and concert band read every single thing I wrote. I learned how to building chords, writing counterpoint, and orchestration. All these experiences made me a better listener and helped me to appreciate the music I played.

If you’d like to try composing with your students, but don’t know where to start, you can print this book – Composing with Kids | Fives “Recipes” for Success. Each “recipe” includes ingredients (like “use this ostinato”, “this form”, or “these rhythms”) and directions on how to combine them. If it sounds a lot like baking cookies… it is!

Download and Print Piano Lesson Book

Composing with Kids | Fives “Recipes” for Success

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Music Notation Apps

Seeing your music printed from a professional notation tool is an amazingly satisfying thing. I recently asked one of my students to give Finale Print Music a try, so she download the 30-day free trial. She loved it! One of the big advantages of writing things out with a notation program is that students get to hear a digital performance. Finale’s Human Playback feature is pretty nice. It still sounds like an electronic piano, but sounds very much like a real person is playing.

Noteflight
Noteflight is a web-based app that can be used on you iPad or Desktop. They offer a “try before you buy” account, so you can check things out first.  Noteflight is supportive to teachers and students and includes many materials and lesson plans for download.

Finale Print Music
Finale Print Music is a basic version of Make Music’s Finale software. They also offer a “try before you buy” account, so you can check things out first. I began writing arrangements with Print Music and liked it. It’s a wonderful tool that allows you to write simple piano arrangements, or music for full band or orchestra. The only reason I upgraded was so I could switch clefs mid-measure.

 

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Browse Piano Sheet Music and Music Theory Posts:

Ode to Joy | Easy Piano Sheet Music – Play and Learn™ Edition
Teaching Dynamics: Linking the Visual Arts to Music
Music Flash Cards | Treble and Bass Clef
Free Beginner Piano Sheet Music/Level 1
Free Beginner Piano Sheet Music/Level 2
Free Easy Piano Sheet Music/Level 3
Free Easy Piano Sheet Music/Level 4
Free Easy Piano Sheet Music/Level  5

Teacher Appreciation Week | 7 Ideas for Thanking Your Teacher

It’s teacher appreciation week! That’s right teachers and students – May 2nd through May 6th is all about thanking teachers for all they do.

In 1984 the National PTA established the first week in May as the week to honor teachers – the people who devote their time, passion and skills to educating our children.

Wondering how you can thank them? Here are a few ideas…

1) Give your teacher an award certificate. (Print free certificate below.)
2) Bake cookies. Wrap them nicely in clear cellophane and include a ribbon and a note.
3) Make a Report Card and give them all “A’s”.
4) Give them a gift card for ice cream or their favorite restaurant.
5) Give them a framed photo of both of you.
6) Nominate them for a teacher of the year award, and let them know that you did.
7) Practice. You might not think this a good one, but it one of the best things you can do to make your teacher happy and feel valued.

Download and Print Free Music Award Certificate

Music Teacher Award Certificate

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Canon in D | Easy Piano Sheet Music – Play and Learn™ Edition

Here’s new edition of Canon in D for advancing piano students. With this easy piano sheet music edition you not only get the piano solo, but you also get a composer biography for kids and a few fun worksheets that accompany the biography to help introduce piano students to the composer of the music they’re playing.

Get Canon in D | Easy Piano Sheet Music Play and Learn™ Edition

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Contents
Canon in D for Easy Piano Solo (2 Pg)
Hey Kid’s, Meet Johannes Pachelbel | Composer Biography
Johannes Pachelbel | Composer Word Search Worksheet
Meet the Composer Job Application (You fill it out for the composer as if they were applying for a job.)

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Sticky Teaching Tips | Music Lesson Ideas

Getting what we teach to stick is what we hope for. Unfortunately, we aren’t always able to make it stick. The following ideas may help you focus on what you really want your students to remember, and how you can help them the most.

1) The Main Thing
Students want to know what the main thing you want them to remember is. Their brains are even wired this way, storing the “main thing” and deleting the rest. (If you’ve seen the Disney movie, “Inside Out,” they illustrate this beautifully with memories that look like marbles and employees who are responsible for deleting the memories no longer needed.) The best thing you can do for your students is to decide what you really want them to know and repeat it often.

My main thing is “practice slowly.” I often ask students, Do you ever get better by playing it wrong?” Sometimes, after they’ve played it wrong 10 times in a row I’ll ask them, “ Now that you’ve played it wrong 10 times in a row, what are you good at?” With a smile on their face, they’ll say, “Playing it wrong.” Getting kids to play slowly is a hard sell, but if you say it enough times, some of them will begin to practice that way – or at least believe that you believe it’s the best way. :o)

2) Be Predictable, But Not Boring
Kids love routines. When things are predictable, stress on the brain is reduced and combined with a routine of repeating your “main thing,” your students encode information faster. Just don’t forget to mix it up a little bit to make things interesting.

My students typically begin their lesson at the piano. In the last few minutes, we often experience something new. Sometimes it’s a theory game. Sometimes it’s a lesson about a composer. Recently I ended a lesson by making a video for dad, because he wasn’t there to see his daughter’s wonderful performance of Part of Your World from the Little Mermaid.

What’s your main thing? I’d love to hear about it.

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EarMaster | Musical Ear Training Software

Guest Post:

Most of you know that ear training is essential to acquiring better musical skills. After all, our aural aptitudes are what guide our hands when we perform a piece. To get a better ear, we need regular practice in order to keep it in shape  – exactly like we would with our piano playing skills. With the technology available today, such practice has become easier and more accessible than ever. When searching for ear training software, you will find plenty of options. The EarMaster program seems quite popular, so I gave it a try.

EarMaster Pro 6 offers a little over 2000 lessons for ear training, sight-singing and rhythm practice, and caters for most skill levels. It contains a general-purpose course covering intervals, chords, chord inversions, harmonic progressions, scales, dictations, sing-back and clap-back activities, as well as sight-singing. You will also find a Jazz-oriented course which focuses on Jazz chords and swing rhythms. Exercises are answered in various ways: by using an on-screen piano keyboard, by singing and clapping into a microphone, by writing notes onto a notation staff, or even by playing on a MIDI keyboard.

The exercises follow a step-by-step progression that guides the user through sequences of lessons grouped by theme. Every exercise is also customizable, which gives us the opportunity to practice specific areas outside of the main courses. We noticed that the software analyzed the answers we gave in real-time and adapted the content of the lessons and the number of questions to our performance, which is quite useful.

The included sight-singing and sing-back exercises are setting EarMaster apart from other titles dedicated to ear training. These exercises are for both melodic and rhythmic training, and allow you to play along a score or to sing and clap short excerpts of music from memory. As with the other exercises included in the software, you are starting off at a low difficulty level, and then move on to more complex melodic and rhythmic phrases. The software also offers a Music XML import feature, which enables you to do sight-singing or melody sing-back sessions with a 4-part chorales or Jazz standards for examples. There are many websites from which you can download royalty-free Music XML material, so the possibilities are almost limitless.

According to the website of the developer, an iPad version of EarMaster should be on its way, but no release date other than “in 2015” seems to be available yet.

You will find a free 7-day trial version at www.earmaster.com.

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Happy ear training!

 

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Browse More Music Theory Posts:

Flash Frog™ | Music Flash Cards for Beginners
Pirate Quest | Music Terms Board Game (Digital Print)
Carnegie Hall Park (Matchbox Parking) | Music Theory Board Game

A Story That May Change the Way You Practice | Music Lessons

There once was a man that wanted to learn to be an archer. At his first lesson, his teacher placed the target just a few inches from the tip of the arrow and asked him to shoot the target. After some instruction, he sent him home, asking him to practice shooting the target from this distance 250 times that week. The next week, the target was moved to 12 inches from the tip of the bow. After some instruction, the teacher sent him on his way and asked him to practice shooting the target from this distance 250 times that week. This routine went on for several months, always increasing the challenge with each lesson. After several months of practice the man had become quite skilled, rarely missing the target even at 50 yards.

The Lesson

Brilliant teaching excites me and this lesson in particular is a stand out. The teacher here, gave his student a challenge that was so easy that it would be hard to fail. Because of that, almost every effort took him closer to his goal. Few efforts were ever wasted on failed attempts to hit the target.

How can you apply this to music practice? Provide students with a goal that they can play perfect the first time. Perhaps this goal is a two measure phrase at a very slow tempo. Once they get it, have them practice the phrase several more times. The goal here is always to play the music perfectly – never a wasted effort. No one ever got better by playing the music incorrectly.
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