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Bag O' Tricks Vol. 1

Bag O’ Tricks Vol. 1

The “Bag O’ Tricks” is a metaphor used to describe a set of strategies that work like magic in the music classroom. These strategies and tricks are developed over the years and many of them are passed down from teacher to teacher. These are some of the tricks that I have learned over the years that help my students to be successful more quickly.

1. Listen, Think, Sing

Sometimes students have difficulty matching pitch. This is especially true for younger students. One trick that works well is called audiation , the practice of hearing/singing inside of your head. One way I use this in my classroom is called “listen, think, sing”. When having my students sing a musical phrase back to me, sometimes I will have them audiate, “think” the phrase, before singing back to me. This can be done in many ways. The way I do it is using hand puppets. I will sing and then have students mouth the phrase out using their hand, and then sing after. This allows them to think/hear the notes inside their head which many times dramatically improves their pitch. Try it and see if it gets your students singing better in tune.

2. Magic Carpet/Magic Dot

The magic carpet/dot is a call and response trick I created to help my students know when to sing. This one is super easy and most effective when singing accapella or accompanying with an acoustic guitar or other mobile instrument. I use either a rubber dot, or a small square of carpet, my “magic carpet”, to help the students know when to sing. When I am on the carpet it is my turn, when I step off it is their turn. It takes just a second for everyone to catch on, but when they do it works like magic. If I want to switch from one measure call and response to two measures, all I have to do is stay on the carpet a little longer, and from there I can switch to four measures without having to stop and explain what I am doing. The students just watch the carpet. This one is a huge time-saver and helps my students learn songs quickly.

3. Positive Narration

Positive narration is something I learned from the No-Nonsense Nurturer training by CT3. It is very similar to praise or positive reinforcement but has a few slight differences. Positive Narration involves giving a clear direction and when students begin to follow that direction, narrating what they are doing out loud. For instance the direction may be “stand on the blue line, silently, facing the front”. I would then look for students following that direction saying, “Sarah is standing on the blue line. Robert is facing the front. Kyle is standing silently”. Notice phrases like “I really like how you are…” and I love how Sarah is…” are not used. Being concise and not making the statements about how the teacher feels about what the students are doing prevents students who may want to do the wrong thing just to annoy you from thinking that you are emotionally effected by their behavior. Positive Narration points out the right thing and encourages other students to follow suit.

4. Group Auditions

Group auditions are both a timesaver and an effective way to help students maximize their audition potential by helping them to not feel singled out. I do this by warming up the group of students who are auditioning together and then breaking them into smaller groups when I have them sing a prepared audition piece. I’ll have four students stand in a spaced out arch so I can hear what direction their voice is coming from. I may have the students sing solfege patterns or parts of the prepared piece individually but only for short periods of time to get an accurate picture of their vocal tone and pitch. Group auditions make sense to me because the goal is to test how students will sound in a group setting. The exception to this is auditioning for a solo part.

5. Trace the Siren

While doing vocal warm-ups with my students, when we do sirens I have my students trace the direction of the pitch. If the pitch goes up, their finger goes up, and vice versa. Not only does this give the students a more kinesthetic way to experience the warm up but this also gives them a better sense of high and low pitch which is helpful in developing young singers.

6. Sports Warm-up analogy

Each year I’ll have a few students who are convinced that they will be the next sports legend (who knows maybe they will be), and think that singing is too “girly” for them. The students will usually sit with their arms crossed and refuse to sing or sing half-heartedly. This can be difficult and discouraging because I want all of my students to enjoy music and play their part in the classroom, even if they won’t grow up to be a musician or singer. What I do to combat this apathy is to link music to what they like: Sports. I use the analogy as we warm up that, “just like (insert famous sports player) has to warm up before the play so they can do their best, we have to warm up our voices so we can sing our best. Many times young boys who were embarrassed to sing suddenly take interest because they can be great like their role models, even if it is at singing.

7. Team Colors

Team colors is my system for color-coding my room. I have my students in groups of 5 students each sitting in chairs with a different color dot at their feet. This helps in many different ways. It helps with seating charts, and team competitions as well as organizing students into groups quickly. For instance, when lining the students up, I can say, “The quietest team can line up first” and then hear a hush fall upon the room. Team colors also works well when playing games because team competition can spark a students desire to perform much better.

These are just a few of the strategies in my Bag o’ Tricks. Comment and share yours best strategies below.

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