I would like to encourage all teachers to include improvisation
and composition for all music students. Being part of a group each
week encourages openness, inclusion and encouragement of showing
ideas and performance with fellow travelers on the road to
Provide an improvisational opportunity for each student at every
Have weekly "Mozart Questions" on theory, music history and so
forth; pay "Mozart Money" for the correct answers. Also reward
consistent practice with the "money." Eventually, students may earn
enough "money" to purchase items from your "Mozart Store."
One week, work in one direction-scales and technique first; the
next week work backwards. Everything gets covered that way.
Give your students a required summer listening list including
folk music, music from the medieval era and jazz.
Use single-composer collections with intermediate students. Ask
them how Bach is different from Bartók, Joplin, Chopin or Mozart.
This helps students "discover" and remember style. All the teacher
has to do is give the student the terminology (polyphony,
homophony, dissonance, functional harmony, ornamentation, form and
so forth) to describe it more professionally.
Reinforce musical principles via the Internet by featuring a
music education-related "website of the week."
Pick a composer of the day/week/month to feature on a bulletin
board that students see when entering your studio. Include facts
about his/her life, as well as sample melodies and tunes.
Teach basic composition and notation and have an "originals
only" recital party.
Set up a listening lab for weekly listening assignments and
provide scores to follow.
Have "Picture Projects," a composition project for young
musicians to create a composition reflecting the mood, character or
action of a picture or photo.
Have a "Music Word of the Week," a weekly project to encourage
students to expand their music vocabulary.
Have your students create Power Point presentations on composers
of pedagogical music. (For example, Vandall, Rocherolle, Olson,
Goldston and so forth.) The students should be involved in
gathering the data and the actual creation of the presentation.
Begin each lesson with dictation designed to put ear training in
familiar terms. For example: The teacher plays a short familiar
phrase (London Bridge is Falling Down) and the student listens with
eyes closed and plays back the segment. Then, the student is
encouraged to write the segment in notation, with help from the
teacher if necessary. The whole process should take five minutes or
Choose a favorite recording and, each week, offer students a
listening experience, perhaps titled "Music You've Just GOT to
Have students do visual arts with music. It helps them better
grasp the structure.
-Submitted by Ann Cummings, Seattle, Washington
The short lesson time each week has always kept me from
incorporating all aspects of a balanced music education into each
lesson. This year, I made a bunch of cards with specific activities
related to general objectives: sight reading, listening, rhythm,
keyboard skills, written theory, improvisation, composition and
crazy stuff. At the top of each card is a little graphic
symbolizing to which area it pertains. To start off the lesson each
week, the student gets to draw an "action card" from the container
on the piano and do whatever it says. It may be something new, or
it may be an opportunity to reinforce something the student already
knows. Either way, it's a lot of fun, and so far everyone loves
-Submitted by Natalie Wickham, Derby, Kansas
Allocate five minutes in every lesson for "creative time." This
is the time where students get to improvise with the guidance of
the teacher. Students in any level can try this exercise. For
example, a beginner can try to create a short improvised piece by
playing only on black notes. The theme can be called "firecracker"
or "popcorn." Let the student imagine how the notes should be play
based on the theme. An advanced student can improvise based on the
theme "domino effects" on all black notes. This exercise provides
lots of fun and interest for improvisations. The ability to sight
read is important and so is the ability to play music without sheet
-Submitted by Yoke Wong, Omaha, Nebraska
Ear training Exercise: Have the student play a scale. At a
second piano, or in a different octave of one piano, (student is
not able to see teacher's hand) play intervals or sequence of notes
in the scale and the student plays the same notes back to the
teacher. Use as many notes as desired to vary the level of
difficulty. You can also add improvisation to reinforce a scale a
student is learning. The teacher plays bass pattern and the student
is asked to mix up notes of the assigned scale to create a melody.
Use variety of time signature, rhythm patterns, dynamics, moods,
touches and so forth. The goal is to create, of course, but also to
experience various dynamics and so on. This uses improvisation in
combination with theory and technique. Most of all-have fun getting
out of the box!
-Mary McCartney, Fort Collins, Colorado