Playful Learning in Music Education: Unleashing Creativity with Unconventional Tools

Playful Learning in Music Education: Unleashing Creativity with Unconventional Tools
Playful Learning in Music Education: Unleashing Creativity with Unconventional Tools đŸŽ¶
In the world of music education, embracing a bit of playfulness can be the key to unlocking creativity and engagement. Step into my classroom, where the usual suspects of musical instruction take a back seat to some unexpected stars – googly eye rings, rubber chickens, and whirly toys. Let's dive into how these 3 unconventional tools infuse our lessons with excitement and bring out the best in our students:

1. Googly Eyes: The Improvisation Catalyst
When it comes to teaching improvisation, googly eye rings take center stage in my lessons and rehearsals. Improvisation can be intimidating, but these wiggly-eyed companions make it feel like a game. Students wear the googly eyes and take turns improvising, adding a lighthearted element to the process. It's amazing how a touch of whimsy can boost confidence and creativity in musical expression, allowing students to feel safe "behind" a puppet or guise of sorts as they try something more vulnerable like creating new tunes with their voice.
2. Rubber Chickens: Shaping Vowels for Beautiful Harmony
Creating a harmonious choral sound involves mastering vowel shapes. Enter the rubber chicken, our surprising ally in this endeavor. As students sing higher notes, we talk about vowel shapes and use our rubber chicken (affectionately named Drumstick by my middle schoolers!) as a visual reminder. Sometimes he participates in games as well... the sky is the limit!
3. Whirly Toys: Elevating Range and Tone Dynamics
Whirly helicopter toys take vocal exercises to a whole new level, literally! As students take turns during warm-ups making the whirly toy go high into the air, they follow it with their voice in a glissando. This helps students explore their vocal range and tone in a playful way so they aren't thinking about how high they are going, or shouting when they go higher. The visual element keeps them engaged!

Play in Learning: Where Hard Work is a Form of Play
Beyond the specific lessons, these unconventional tools contribute to an environment where play is embraced as a powerful learning tool. In our musical journey, hard work becomes play and play helps us achieve hard work. Each challenge transforms into an opportunity for discovery and growth. The unexpected elements brought by these tools encourage students to explore, take risks, and find joy in the process of making music.

What creative methods do you use to make music lessons engaging and fun for your students?

What is "Mystery Musician" and How I Implement it in my Choir Rehearsals

What is "Mystery Musician" and How I Implement it in my Choir Rehearsals
"Mystery Musician" is a term I came up for a way to implement a small piece of my classroom management system.

Can I just call out something I HATE about the modern educational movement? I HATE prize boxes and reward systems. There, I said it. BUT, that said, I do utilize one in a very rudimentary way that focuses on developing habits in my choir singers that I want to develop. In my experience, this has worked best for grades 3rd-7th, but you could likely adapt it for older or younger singers.

Read to the end for some winner items I've included in my "Mystery Musician" box that my students love, is NOT edible, and doesn't break the bank.

But first. What is the "Mystery Musican" and how do I use it?
A "Mystery Musician" is someone who...
  • Is organized. They have their materials (music folder and pencil) and come prepared to rehearsal if they were given a practice assignment.
  • Works hard. They use our time well during rehearsal.
  • Stays focused. He or she does not distract others during class but pays attention to what page we are on.
  • Helps others. If their neighbor doesn't know what page we are on or where I am at, they help them find their spot without causing others to get distracted.
  • Tells the story of the piece of music. They express emotions when they sing, making the audience feel happy, sad, or excited based on what we are singing. They use a smile or engaged face to draw the audience in!
  • Follow the leader. They follow their conductor's directions really well. It's important for everyone to listen and work together as a team!
  • Are curious! Mystery musicians are always learning. Their goal is to become even better singers! There is always something new to learn or discover.
There you have it! I reinforce these characteristics with my students during class by saying things like, "Wow, I see the mystery musician is sitting tall with eyes on the conductor, ready to see when she will start the piece." or maybe, "Thank you, mystery musician, for remembering to bring your music folder with you before class started! If you forgot yours, no biggie, go grab it from your bag after warm-ups are done."

This allows me to teach these habits to my singers without singling anyone out in either a positive or negative way -- and it keeps my students focused on what they are doing rather than what someone else did or didn't do. Many students may be demonstrating mystery musician traits that day, but I try to think of who that singer is as soon as they walk in the door. If that person doesn't really demonstrate these traits that day, I just pick someone else at the end of class who was and circle back around to that student another day.

So, do you do something similar in your classroom? If so, how is it similar or different to how I do it!

Oh! And bonus: 4 Winner Items I add to my box that students LOVE:
1) TINY duckies! I don't know why, but my students are OBSESSED with these cute little guys.
2) Cute erasers -- these are always a hit! I look for different ones each time I need a restock to change things up.
3) Music stickers -- can't get these anywhere else they know of (not in bulk!)
4) Jumping frog toys -- so simple, and so fun!

These have lasted my box YEARS, and I just add a new item or replenish a favorite item around once per year to change things up and keep it fresh. Cheap and fun!

Navigating Concert Week Chaos: A Music Teacher's Survival Kit

Navigating Concert Week Chaos: A Music Teacher's Survival Kit
Navigating Concert Week Chaos: A Music Teacher's Survival Kit

Concert week—the grand finale that puts on display our and our students' hard work! Yet, the journey to that moment can be a bit tumultuous at times. Fear not! Here's your shortcut to concert week success without losing your cool (and all your sleep that week).

Embrace Early Planning: Start early, plan wisely. Craft a roadmap with rehearsals, sectionals, and practice goals. I use this notebook to keep myself organized! Share the plan with students and parents for smooth preparation. Try to have deadlines in place earlier than you actually need those things completed in case you experience delays.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Ditch the solo act and delegate tasks to students or parent volunteers (this can feel so hard but be so rewarding! Students thrive when given responsibility appropriately). Whether it's setting up the venue, managing costumes, or handling backstage logistics, there's strength in numbers. A shared load eases the burden.

Organizational Magic: Master the art of organization. Utilize tools like spreadsheets and calendars to tame rehearsals, attendance, and communication chaos. I love using Attractwell for contacts, keeping organized, and sending info to students' families since I am self-employed. And don't try to remember it all on your own! Timers and to-do lists are my best friend.

Spread Positivity: In the midst of tension, sprinkle positivity -- laughter helps so much. Celebrate small victories and reassure students that their hard work is paying off. One of my greatest mentors' motto was, "Cheerful and flexible. If you can't be cheerful, be flexible. If you can't be flexible, be cheerful! And if you can be both... GREAT! Do that."

Strategic Rehearsals: Conduct smart rehearsals. Identify and prioritize challenging sections early in the week for a smoother performance. Talk less and sing/play more.

Create a Supportive Environment:
Amidst chaos, cultivate a supportive atmosphere. Encourage, uplift, and acknowledge the ensemble's hard work.

Self-Care is Essential: Don't forget yourself! Get rest, stay hydrated (without the caffeine that can hurt your voice -- this is my favorite go-to for non-caffinated energy), and take short breaks. Your well-being is crucial.

Master Communication: Keep everyone informed about schedule changes and expectations through emails, newsletters, and social media.

With early planning, teamwork, positivity, and self-care, you're not just surviving concert week; you're thriving. Embrace the excitement, enjoy the music, and make this week a crescendo of success. Cheers to the magical symphony you're about to create! đŸŽ”

5 Music Teacher Tools that Will Blow Your Mind

5 Music Teacher Tools that Will Blow Your Mind
Here are 5 tools I use weekly as a Music Teacher that will blow your mind!

1) Hoberman Sphere! A fun toy that I use to work on deep breathing for singing (and works well to have a calm moment with a rowdy class if needed too!). I like to have students takes turns leading the group in how fast or slow we will take those breaths and pick someone breathing silently to go next.

2) A microphone! I like felt ones personally but have also used this sparkly one that my students love as well. Great for turn taking, a talking piece for classes that interrupt one another a lot, or solo moments. I use the Feierabend First Steps in Music with my younger classes, so there are lots of opportunities for solo singing!

3) Claves or another instrument that you can use to keep a steady beat. A great alternative to your voice, a metronome, or clapping! My middle schoolers love playing a game called Pass the Beat Around the Room while I keep the beat with the claves.

4) A new song resource, like this global music resource, for teaching new songs! I have SO many favorites -- should I do a blog post just of those?

5) Pitch Pipe! Very useful for anywhere you don't have a piano, to get a pitch quickly and accurately. My students think it sounds funny, but function over funny is my motto with this one. ;)

There you have it! I have so many toys and tools that I use all the time, should I do another post of more? What tools do you use all the time in your teaching? I'd love to hear!


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