Wednesday, March 22, 2017

31 Days of Rhythm: Engage Students with Rhythm Sudoku

Can you believe that we are more than halfway through the month of March already? Spring is finally here and we are in the middle of celebrating Music in Our Schools Month! There is so much to be happy about! 

For today's post, I'm going to share a brilliant idea that I learned about several years ago at a workshop: Rhythm Sudoku. 

If you are anything like me, you probably first heard about Sudoku about eight years ago. Maybe you never really got into it because "math isn't your thing" (which is ironic because a Sudoku puzzle actually doesn't require any arithmetic.) Or maybe you have experience completing the puzzles and are wondering how on earth these number squares can relate to rhythm. 

Either way, I'm happy to show you! In this post, I'll walk you through the steps required to make your own Rhythm Sudoku puzzle (or for those of you more results-oriented, you can buy ready made ones in my store. But that really does take all of the fun out of it, don't you think?)

A traditional Sudoku grid is 9x9, but we don't need to get quite so involved with ours! Let's make a 4x4 grid to start out. Once your puzzle is complete, you can think of it like a composition with four measures of four beats each.

This will be the most time-consuming portion, but once you get the hang of creating them, you should be able to create a puzzle in a minute or two. 

You have to select four different rhythms to use in your puzzle. Start plugging them in the grid wherever they fit. You can't have the same rhythm twice in any row or column. 

Make sure you make note of what your completed puzzle looks like. Then, you can erase most of the rhythms so that your puzzle is ready! The more squares you erase, the more difficult your puzzle will be. For beginner level puzzles, I like to make it so that at least one row or column can be solved immediately.

Once you have created your puzzle, you are ready to share with your students. I like to create several puzzles of increasing difficulty levels to challenge my students as they are ready. Once they have solved the whole puzzle, they have a grid of music notation, which can be used for reading practice.

You can read them the "right way," as in read each beat from left to right. Or, for more crazy fun, you can read the lines backwards. Or you can read the columns going up or down. There are so many different combinations and ways to interact with the completed puzzle grid! It's a surefire way to keep kids curious and engaged while reciting rhythm syllables!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

31 Days of Rhythm: Prepare Quarter Notes and Eighth Notes using In the Hall of the Mountain King

This has to be one of my favorite pieces of music to use in my teaching. I love to use classical pieces that my students immediately recognize. They are so much more engaged when they've heard the piece in their lives already.

In this piece, there are just so many great musical concepts just waiting to be unpacked: tempo, dynamics, orchestral instruments, storytelling, pitch, and of course, rhythm. The clear rhythmic motive in this piece is so catchy and accessible for even my youngest students.

For our MIOSM blog series, I am sharing how I use this piece to prepare my young students for quarter note and barred eighth notes. Here are a few different tried-and-true ways to use it:

1. One of my favorite ways to introduce the piece is to play a recording of it while dramatically telling them the story of Peer Gynt’s attempt to flee from the trolls. I think that storytelling is one of the most overlooked aspects of our craft. It is arguably the oldest form of human expression, and I love being able to get my students' attention and help them hone their aural skills by telling them stories.

(If your school and administration is super open-minded, perhaps you could also play them this terrifying video? Just kidding. Don’t show this video unless you want angry parents calling you demanding to know why you showed their child this demonic video in music class.)  

Anyway, while I tell them the story, I begin chanting “tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe, troll” to the rhythm while our hero tries to escape. When the tempo and dynamics increase, I change it to “run run, run run, run run, troll!” It doesn’t take long before all of my students are chanting it along with me. Most are also singing along to the melody.

2. In a previous blog post, Listening Lessons Three Ways, I shared an awesome tool that was given to me by a former teacher: she calls it her "Marauders Map". It is actually two long paper rolls (they are a few feet wide and look great up on a chalkboard or dry erase board.) I start with the iconic notation and then when I'm ready to actually present quarter and eighth notes, I'll put the other one up side-by-side to compare.

3. In case you don't want to make your own map, here is a free printable/projectable one that I created using iconic notation:

4. Another fun activity to do with “Mountain King” is compare it to Mary Had A Little Lamb. I challenge my students to see if they can sing the lyrics to “Mary Had A Little Lamb" to the melody of "Mountain King." The same can also be done using "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and it's fun to try and do the movements faster and faster with the accelerando in the piece.

5. One of the things that makes "In the Hall of the Mountain King" so accessible for students is the fact that it is so pervasive in popular culture. It's been covered and re-recorded by a number of popular artists and it is frequently heard in TV and movies. I've been told it is sampled in the song "Hair Up" from the new Trolls movie (how appropriate given the subject matter.)

No matter the source, there is a good chance that your students will recognize the tune when they hear it in class, and that is a great way to get them engaged in the lesson!