Improvisation, Compostion, Ear Training, Musicianship, Listening

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 comprehensive musicianship.

Provide an improvisational opportunity for each student at every lesson.

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 less.

Choose a favorite recording and, each week, offer students a listening experience, perhaps titled "Music You've Just GOT to Hear!"

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 it!
—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 music.
—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