A good theory teacher knows that students need a variety of activities to hammer home what are often abstract musical concepts. This means that sometimes students need to get off the bench and play theory games, and other times students need to stay on the bench to experience theory concepts in their “natural environment”.
In today’s post, I’m going to share eight tiny tools that make a world of difference when exploring theory where it occurs naturally… or “in context”. Following a brief introduction to these eight tiny tools, I’ll show you concrete examples of how each one can be used to explore a single concept (in this case accidentals).
Eight Tiny Tools That Make A Big Difference
In my world, sheet music and method books are a blank canvas ready to accept my “artistic” teaching style. I will take every opportunity to draw, mark, cut, paste, and flag my students’ music. It brings the music to life. It makes the music something to explored, not something to be scared of.
And, in order to explore music with my students, I require a bunch of simple, cheap and effective tools. Maybe you already have some of these in your studio… and maybe some are new ideas! If you too are a of fan teaching theory in-context then give these tiny tools a chance to make a big difference to your teaching.
- Music Staff Stamps: These rubber stamps, available on Amazon, will eliminate those horribly squiggly staffs that teachers draw on their students’ music (or am I the only one without a steady hand?!). Even if you do have a steady hand, there’s no way you can compete with the speed of the stamp when you need to leave a lasting teaching tool directly on the music.
- Mini Piano Keyboard Labels: You can use my template here that works for Avery 5160 labels. I use mini piano keyboard labels whenever I need to connect concepts “on the page” with what is found “on the keys” and stick them directly to my students’ music page.
- Highlighters: Taking apart a score to focus on aspects of rhythm, harmony, intervals and underlying chord structure becomes much easier when you have a simple color code to follow. We wrote a popular post a while back with a score study highlighter printable, that is extremely useful.
- Mini Staff Paper. Sometimes theory concepts require an explanation that goes beyond what the music offers. Having mini-staff paper means you can quickly reinforce a concept and then tape it to your students’ page for a lasting reminder during the week.
- Post-it Flags: These little stickers are a fabulous way to group concepts (all measures with a similar rhythm or all IV chords etc.) and can easily be moved by little fingers when needed. Drawing on the post-it flags also allows you to label parts of a score in a non-permanent way.
- Dice: If you can find a large foam die (a large size prevents it from disappearing under the piano) then you and your students can have a great deal of fun integrating game play with an actual piece of music. Trying rolling a die to determine which measure of the music to “take apart”, the number of a certain note to seek out, intervals to decode… and more.
- Small manipulatives: Younger students appreciate a tactile approach to theory. Mini erasers, pompoms, microcars, and buttons all serve as a great way to engage their brains while learning how the theory on their pages relate to what happens on the piano.
- A “Magic Wand” This can be as simple as a colorful pencil or as complex as a fairy wand. Have your students use the wand as a motivating “pointing” tool to answer questions and demonstrate their ability to find theory concepts in their scores.
How I Use All 8 Tiny Tools To Reinforce Accidentals…
Curious how all of these tiny tools fit together? Below is an example of how you could use all 8 tiny tools to explore the concept of F# with a young student encountering accidentals in his music for the first time.
Begin with statements like:
- I’ve just put a staff stamp on the top of your page. Would you like it to be a Bass Clef Stamp or a Treble Clef Stamp? You can draw the clef. Next, draw a whole note F and then show me how you would then make it an F#.
- Here’s a label sticker of a piano keyboard. Color in the F key and then show me with an arrow what a half step higher from F looks like?
- Here is a pink highlighter. Do you remember what the F# looked like when you drew it on the staff stamp? It affects the note that is in the first space and the top line on the treble staff. Let’s find all of the F’s in the treble clef on your page and then make them pink.
- I’ve drawn four F’s on this small staff paper. Show me how you can add a sharp to the spot that would then turn three of the F’s into F sharps.
- Here are two post-it flags. Place them on your music where the “F” remains a natural? Why are these notes (adding a different colored flag) not F sharps?
- Let’s roll the die. The number that lands face-up is the measure number we’re going to examine. How many F sharps are in that measure? Let’s roll the die again. The number that lands face-up is the number of F sharps I want you to find and then play on the piano.
- I have 8 pompoms. I’m going to point to a note on your page… can you put the pom pom on the corresponding piano key?
- Using the magic wand, can you point to three F sharps that are in the Bass Clef on your music? Can you point to two F sharps that are in the Treble Clef?
What Tiny Tools Do You Use To Teach Theory?
Teaching theory needs to happen at the piano and off the bench. For exciting ways to explore theory off the bench you will definitely want to check out Teach Piano Today’s PianoGameClub. For engaging ways to explore theory at the piano, the eight tools explore above are a great place to start!
But we also want to know… what simple, tiny, tools for exploring theory are sitting beside your piano? Let us know in the comments below.