Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Plan B

Or: something to try when, after six months, you still can't get a critical mass of your student band to reliably produce the basic pitches / rhythms called for by the piece you are supposed to be working on.

1. Devise a set of hand signals that correspond with certain musical qualities agreed upon by the class (long, short, fast, slow, high, low, dense, sparse, start, stop, etc.).

2. Allow each student (in turn) to take on the role of composer-conductor.

3. Ask each composer-conductor (in turn) to direct their peers, using the aforementioned hand signals, in an improvised ensemble performance.

Maybe the resulting music is horrible. Maybe it's not. But suddenly the kids are concentrating, cooperating, and smiling. Take your victories where you can find them, and call it a day.

(Maybe this should've been "Plan A'"?)

[Photo credit: Roland Lakis]


Trier Music said...

Love it!

Hm, maybe in the future there could be "dueling conductors"? Make music together! Do the same thing! Do the opposite thing!

Hm, a scoring system for meeting things like a decrescendo, a soli section...the mind reels!

dmbtiger said...

Q: What do you call a jazz musician without a girlfriend?
A: Homeless!

Jill-o said...

I love love love love this! That is better than farkin' Hot Cross Buns any day.

I did a similar lesson like that with my 5th graders about 236 years ago. In addition to the hand signals, they also created written symbols for each sound, so it could be played again.

It was way cool, and these kids (who normally didn't give a crap) were riveted.

Another cool one: Tell the students to explore the room and pick something to be their instrument. Anything. Staplers, pencils on table legs, opening file cabinet drawers, their voices, mouth-fart sounds, whatever. You keep a simple, straight 4/4 beat, and tell the kids to play along... either with you on quarter notes, or on whatever feels right. Once they find a groove, tell them to stick with it. You can use hand signals to tell them to play louder, softer, and eventually you can cue certain kids to start/stop playing (turning tracks on and off, essentially)... give someone a solo, etc. Eventually you can have the students act as conductor/composer.

The kids love banging on school-owned stuff, they love getting solos, and they loooooove giving mouth fart solos to their mouth-fart-virtuoso peers.

cinderkeys said...

When I was a student, and when I taught, I found that students get a whole lot more engaged when they're participating rather than taking in a lecture.

My students were in college. The principle applies, regardless of age.

Damien said...

Totally sweet. Brilliant idea.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks, all!

Susan, you're exactly right -- participation makes all the difference.

This seems to be the band's new favorite exercise. So much so that we keep coming back for another pass, refining the instructions each time.

I just hope the school allows me to let the kids do this sort of thing during this spring concert.