I am a book-lover… to put it lightly. In fact, in my Grade 12 year, when a hypnotist was hired to entertain the grads (and I of course was chosen to act foolish on stage) one of his questions to (apparently a regressed 6-year-old me) was “What is your favorite toy, Andrea?” I replied “Books” without hesitation.
My book obsession inspired me to include books in my piano lessons for the month of March. I emerged last weekend from our favorite old book store with five books and five piano lesson activities that I’m really excited to blog about. We’ll be sharing one book and one paired piano lesson activity in a series of posts in the coming weeks. We hope that you find some inspiration and creativity from an unexpected place too!
The right kind of books are deliciously inspiring with beautiful language, gorgeous pictures and all kinds of engaging and creative themes. If you want to grab the attention of your piano students and elicit a certain mood, response or idea… books are your go-to resource.
But how can you possibly use books in a piano lesson? This isn’t “story hour” at the local library! Well, let us show you…
Important – We have included two printables with today’s post (you can find them below). The first is specifically for the story below and the second is a blank template so that you can do this same activity with any story you have kicking around!
So here’s the first book and activity that we’re sharing in this five-part blogging series. Keep in mind that these activities aren’t meant to be a huge part of your piano lesson... simply a quick little activity to get the creative juices flowing and neural connections firing.
Learning About Character Themes With The Gruffalo – by Julia Donaldson
This book is uber-popular and super cute… but it also provides a great starting point for some sound exploration for your young piano students.
You’ll need to print this worksheet for the activity that follows.
You’ll need to print this blank worksheet to use this activity with ANY story.
1. In the story, the mouse meets 4 animals; the fox, the owl, the snake, and the gruffalo. Take a look at each of the characters together in the pages of the book.
2. Discuss with your piano students how each character looks, how they move, what their personality is like etc. For example: The fox: he is sly, he runs fast, he lives in a burrow. Then, discuss how each of these traits could be represented using sounds on the piano. For example: staccato (running), quiet sounds (sly), a fermata (being timid), slow at first and then quick (creeping and running) etc. Write down your favorite ideas in the left hand column on your worksheet under each character’s name.
3. Next, have your piano students come up with a “theme” for each character (meaning a measure of melody or some sounds that your student associates with the character). Encourage variety in articulation, dynamics, octaves, tempo etc. Write these character themes on the worksheet in the right hand column.
4. Now, as you read the book together, pause each time the character’s name is mentioned (where it feels appropriate… it does’t have to be every time) and have your student play the corresponding character theme on the piano.
Voila! You have an interactive story-telling experience that has opened the door to creativity for you piano student and is a great pre-cursor to composition and improv! Stay tuned for other great ideas for using children’s books as creative piano teaching tools.