Building Chords with Bricks

I’ve been trying to think of an interesting and portable resource to help with uteaching chords and inversions. I never got the hang of these, never ever, until I started learning to harmonise Bach Chorales as part of my teaching diploma.

Then I had a mini-brain-wave, partly sparked off by a post in www.teachpianotoday.com. Their idea involved cutting up pool noodles (what is a pool noodle???? some serious googling required here!  It turns out they are colourful foam noodles made out of the same stuff you use to insulate pipes. Obvious to the teachpianotoday team because they live in the hot sunny part of USA. I suppose you all knew that too.)

Anyway, pool noodles didn’t seem portable to me; but how about little coloured wooded bricks?

chord 1smaller5

I wrote the note letters on them with a black marker pen; red seemed obvious for C, green for G, blue for B. There are only six colours, but I have some tape with fishes on it, so stuck that over some spare red bricks for F.

Now to build chords.. C, F and G

chord 2 smaller 7

Inversions? Piece of cake.

chord 3 smaller 7

How about a cadence?

chord 4 smaller 7

Modulations? Major and minor? Just add sharps and flats to the other sides of the cubes.

chord 5 smaller 7

I can’t wait to use these in theory and practical lessons. Now all I have to do is find a use for the the other 80 cubes left in the box…

Oh my mind is fairly whizzing with more uses for these little bricks. Good-oh, that’s another dozen Music Jungle Posts in the pipeline!

birds on a branch divider

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Everything in G major – Piano

Here you go – increased level of difficulty for the little ‘tune’ bits.

The idea is that you pick and choose what your student it ready for, and award points/stickers or ‘well done’s as appropriate.

Add your own fingering, write in possible solutions for the RH cadence, change chords and time signatures and LH accompaniment figures for the lead sheets – just do whatever seems good at the time! If the ‘hands together’ bits are too hard for sight reading, just do one hand at a time.

Everything in G major_0001I’ll test this out soon on some unsuspecting students…

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Everything in G major_0002

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The First Guitar Lesson

I did it! I survived!

We all did it and survived – it was a magnificent piece of planning and cooperation and teamwork.

not-so-serene swan

I’m talking about the first Whole Class Ensemble Session of the year with a cast of the class teacher, the music teacher (that’s me), the Teaching Assistant, and 29 eager seven-year-olds.

We planned out all the steps in advance – how we would get the guitars from the great guitar mountain in the corner of the classroom, and then the chairs, also from the classroom into the hall, and allocate the guitars (by size of child and size of guitar) and record who had which guitar, and still have time to actually play the guitars before the allotted 45 minutes were up.

In all the teaching I have ever done, it is not the actual teaching that has ever been difficult, but the distribution and packing away of instruments which has caused me the most grief. Nothing beats detailed planning.

In the end, we three adults micro-managed the children every step of the way. We controlled how they carried the guitars and where and how to place the guitars in a line ready for allocating them later. We explained, directed and organised how they fetched their chairs and placed them in rows, carefully spaced and angled so that there was less chance of hitting each other with the tuning peg end of the instrument.

Then we lined the children up, tallest at one end and smallest at the other, and allocated the guitars. While we were waiting to complete that task, I started a song with the ones who were waiting.to keep their minds off wanting to unpack and get playing.

Abracadabra! All guitars allocated, all children seated, and we were ready to unpack with still fifteen minutes to go!

I steadily took them through gently playing each string in turn while chanting ‘Eddie Ate Dynamite Good-Bye Eddie’ (children don’t seem to mind the violent implications). We even got as far as identifying the three higher strings, just playing ‘Good-Bye Eddie’; this will stand us in good stead for when we start playing three string chords.

It was a fast-paced, physically and mentally tiring lesson to get all this hectic activity completed while maintaining a calm and disciplined environment, but we succeeded.

Roll on the next lesson – let’s hope we can keep this up.

more tea?

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Everything in C major

Almost everything.

The Music Hub I work for has revised the curriculum for each of the Stages in piano and keyboard teaching.

So I now find myself teaching things that I was never taught, rather I ‘acquired’ the knowledge much later on through various ‘light-bulb’ moments along the piano journey.

The ‘Stage 1′ requirements, roughly equivalent to ABRSM or Tinity Grade 1) now include such things as

Play a syncopated Tango style accompaniment using the triad chords I, IV and V to accompany a lead sheet in the keys of the scales using broken chords, composing your own intro/ ending

Wow! I couldn’t have done that at Grade 1! And how I wish I had been taught about chords in a systematic manner.

I’m thinking about what kind of resource would be useful for teaching this kind of thing; something along these lines? This is a two-page spread, covering scales, arpeggios, broken chords, chords, a ‘Grand Cadence, a couple of lines of very basic sight reading and then a simple lead sheet.

Everything C major_0001

Everything C major_0002

 

My idea is to work through the lines steadily, awarding stickers for each line completed. For pre-stage 1, I would do the scales hands separately, and keep some of the lines for later.

Dynamics, fingering, articulation can all be added as you go along.

When (If!) I create a sheet in G major, the first section would be very similar, but the sight reading would be slightly harder. For Stage 1, I suppose I would need to do sheets for C, G, D, F majors, A minor and D minor. That would deal with all the scales for the ABRSM grade, and get the sight reading and chord knowledge well advanced.

It wouldn’t be too hard; after all I can start by just transposing the whole of the C major sheet and then ‘titivating’ it a little.

Please help yourself to these pages if you think you would find them useful. And let me know what you think!

Snake keyboard divider

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On-line Learning

When I included a jazz standard in the list of pieces to learn for my Active Repertoire challenge (see this post, and Andrew Eales’ blogpost) I was reminded of the online jazz course I started at the end of last term.

I found it on a site called www.futurelearn.com, When I went to the site I discovered that there seem to be hundreds of courses on a huge range of topics, offered by universities and colleges all over the world.

I had a good go at the Jazz Piano Stage 1 course earlier this Summer, offered by Goldsmith’s College, University of London. It is an excellent mix of video tutorials, downloadable scores and backing tracks, opportunities to listen to and learn from each other’s efforts uploaded to soundcloud, and encouraging comments from the online learner community. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to complete all the course, as life suddenly got busy. However I have really appreciated what I worked through, and have plenty of downloads to keep me going. Best of, all, take note of the words in the pink bar at the bottom of the screenshot;

Learn Jazz 1

Like most of the courses, it is completely free! The only catch is that your access to the course material disappears after a certain date, unless you pay a fee for unlimited access. However the courses do seem to come round again from time to time, and you may well be able to download a lot of the material.

The stage 1 and 2 Jazz piano courses are being advertised at the moment, along with various other music courses. I shan’t be signing up for any of them, as I’m about to start an online creative writing course (run by the Open University) in the next week or so… but I might find the score study course (Open University) very, very tempting. I’m thinking of putting my name down for the re-run in February next year.

Meanwhile, I shall be brushing up on some of the standards that I studied in Jazz 1, ready to add to the Autumn Active Repertoire List.

Happy Learning… it makes a refreshing change from always teaching.

leaves divider

 

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Active Repertoire

I follow www.pianodao.com, written by Andrew Eales. It is full of interesting ideas, which, although mainly piano focused, are useful for other instrumentalists as well.

Here’s a link to a recent post about Active Repertoire where you can also find a free download of the ‘Active Repertoire’ sheet.

The idea is that you should always have some pieces that you can perform at the drop of a hat, preferably by heart. I was caught that way recently in a school assembly when I was asked to play as the children came in, on a cheap and cheerful keyboard balanced across a couple of chairs.

My ‘active repertoire’ is very small, and consists mostly of my favourite Children’s pieces by Kabalevsky, Oh, and the opening theme and second theme of  ‘Fur Elise’, and most of CPE Bach’s ‘Solfegietto’. That was a bit of a nasty moment; I was rattling through, hoping the keyboard wouldn’t fall of the chairs, when I realised I didn’t know what came next. Luckily the children had left the hall by then so I could just come to a full stop.

But these are all pieces that I learned when I was about ten years old. Which is a long, long time ago!

30 Pieces for Children, Op. 27 By Dmitri Kabalevsky 9780793536276    G. Schirmer, C.P.E. Bach: Solfeggietto In C Minor. Piano Sheet Music        Für Elise - The 100 most beautiful classical Piano Pieces - Pianissimo series - piano

After so many years it is time for something new!

So I’m accepting the challenge that Andrew has issued; I just have to choose a couple of pieces that are

  • reasonably short (no-one wants to hear a whole sonata when they ask for ‘a tune’)
  • ‘easy-listening’ (not many of my acquaintance would enjoy Schoenberg)
  • reasonably well-known, like a Chopin Prelude, for example
  • maybe include a jazz standard
  • add a Christmas Carol, ready for December

I shall be encouraging my pupils to take up the challenge, so that they always have a tune ready to play to Grandparents and  Aunts and Uncles.

contrary motion divider

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NEW SCHOOL YEAR – JUNGLE RELAUNCH

This is the picture I used to launch this site, all those years ago.

Entering the jungle

The first half of this year became steadily more and more overwhelming with various family issues, and something had to give way. Nothing majorly major – just a sheer volume of events and incidents that took most of my time and energy.

So, for the first seven months of this year, it was The Music Jungle that had to be abandoned, in the interests of sanity preservation.

Happily, my sanity has been preserved, and I’m revitalised and ready for the new school year!

My teaching schedule has changed quite markedly since I started the Music Jungle. Back then, I was mostly doing primary school class music teaching in one form or another, with some piano teaching in the evenings. I have now cut down on the class teaching, especially the type that is most admin-heavy.

paper tiger cubI’m hoping that this will make life more relaxed  in future.

french/chinese tiger

From Monday, I will be doing a whole lot of piano teaching, and some theory teaching, partly as a private teacher working from home, and also working in schools as an independent teacher or for the local County Music Hub.

Then there will be group recorder lessons, for the local County Music Hub and, if all goes well, privately, and also three whole class sessions in primary schools per week, one guitar (who knew I could play guitar? Well, it appears that I can!) and two djembe.

Finally, I have been running a small adult djembe workshop for a couple of years, that’s small as in the number of people who come, not the size of the people or their drums.

I’ll be trying to post a couple of times per week this term – and see how it goes.

So, look out for a djembe page, coming soon, and hearing about my guitar teaching exploits in the future!

birds on a branch divider

 

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42/60 A Surfeit of Christmas Concerts

The joy of working in several different schools is that you experience different school cultures, environments, collect new ideas, meet so many lovely people.

But at this time of year I take a rather different view;

Tomorrow (Saturday) is the end of term Christmas celebration one of the keyboard ensembles I teach on Saturday mornings. Making sure that the child who started last week is a bit of a challenge, especially as it was her first ever lesson on any kind of keyboard.

This weekend I also need to make sure that I can play the accompaniments for the first school carol concert I am involved with. That’s just a little matter of “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Jolly Holly” – both are straightforward piano parts without too much cleverness, and no dangerously confusing repeats, dal segnos, “to Coda” marks and rapid pages turns forwards and backwards. Phew. Just so long as I can get my fingers round them by Monday night.

Then I turn my attention to a number of “Out of the Ark” Christmas songs – they are the ones where I frequently lose my way – plus there is an key change for the last verse on the backing track of “No Room at the Inn” which isn’t in the book. I might get it learned in time…or I might not…  This is for the next school. The choir is singing to Retirement Village on Thursday afternoon, so as well as their children’s songs there will be some traditional carols as well. I’m told that there is a piano… I’ll take my mp3 player and amp in the car, just in case.

That morning I will have run the end-of-term recorder assembly at yet another school, where year 3 demonstrate what they have achieved after a mere nine lessons (G, A, B, and C without too much squeaking).

Before then, I will have been teaching the carols for – yes, another school’s end of term church service….

Is that all of them? Possibly… I live in fear of forgetting something important. At least this term I am not accompanying any music exams!

holly divider

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