Do your students think scales are fun? I promise you they can, it just takes a little know-how and some imagination on your part. But it’s so worth it!
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Vibrant vibrant vibrant music teaching proven and practical tips strategies and ideas for music teachers
Welcome to Episode 11 of the Vibrant music teaching podcast. I’m Nicola Cantan. And in today’s bonus episode I’ll take you through the three stages of gamifying scales with your students
Well hello there beautiful teachers welcome to this bonus episode of the vibrant music teaching podcast. Most bonus episodes here on the podcast are going to be interviews however this one is a little bit different because I’ve decided to rebroadcast for you one of the days from my 7 day VMT first birthday celebrations that I did recently on the Facebook page. The reason I wanted to share this with you here is that I know not everyone is on Facebook and I know not everyone likes watching video. So if you are someone that prefers podcasts this might be a great chance to catch this particular training that I did which is all about Gamifying scales and I had some really great feedback about it. Members got a lot of actionable ideas from it and they’ve been letting me know which ones I’ve been trying out ever since. So I wanted to share this with you here today and also to let you know that you can still catch all of the replays of all of these trainings even if you’re not on Facebook in video format at vibrant music teaching dot com slash b day so be d a y. And that’s where you can catch all of these videos. There were seven of them seven different trainings that I did as a fun way to celebrate VMT first birthday. And of course you can sign up to become a member of vibrant music teaching and join our community. VMT ninja. And that’s how you can get in on the fun. But for now let’s dive into this training all about Gamifying scales and making them fun and engaging for students.
Okay so today we’re talking about scales and how we can work on scales and I split this up into three levels to make it a little bit more digestible for you guys and make it stick in your head a little bit more and make it more understandable. So Level 1 is our first level. I mean get rid of that guy. Level 1 is about fantastic foundations. What’s that mean. Just means of beginnings. Okay but it’s about laying amazing foundations that are reliable later on when you try to speed things up and make it more exciting and do all the crazy patterns and all of that stuff. None of that can happen if they don’t know the scale patterns in the first place so what are the fantastic foundations that we want to lay. Well my favourite way to start is with improvisation. By far before I’ve touched scale fingerings or definitely before they’re fully embedded so I’m starting with improvisation as a way to discover scales as a way to learn about things like which black keys are in the scale. What does it mean to be in G Major what does it feel like to land on the. At the end. That kind of stuff. So we start with improvisation and I’m actually going to show you a video of me and my student doing this.
This is just to give you a little bit of context here. This is something from something I called the circle of fifths odyssey and that is a lesson plan that I’m going to be releasing inside vibrant music teaching in about 2 weeks. That right. What date is it. Two weeks less than two weeks I think. And there’s a circle of tears. Obviously that’s a set of lesson plans that last. You guessed it 12 weeks to take your students around the entire circle of exploring scales and chords along the way and the foundation of that is this exercise which I started doing with my student. Very simple. We start in the key of C and we improvise together. I do a simple chord accompaniment and they improvise in the key of C and then we move to G and we talk about what that means so I’m going to show you a little clip of this. And for those of you who tuned in on the first day yes I have figured I’d hate to make the sound work so it will work this time. If I click on the right buttons here we go. We’re going to improvise in the case of saving and you. Know
If you can use all of this are not easy to steal them off me.
You know next G G G writes What’s the difference between C and G. Yeah. Which is it. Yeah
Ok so let me pause it there. I hope you heard that it is time to read. I think I set it up correctly and that that gives you an idea. We continued up to a or e that week but we’re just working through the various keys and really getting inside. What it means to be in that key which is something that I don’t felt feel like I found for a long long time. I hope it was useful for you guys see that in action. As I say this is going to be a planned sequence so that it can be used by anyone. But feel free to jump in and have a go if you’re like yeah I get that she’s just playing four chords which I am nothing gonna get going on there might come out of it and then the student is improvising and see that I’m asking OK we’re gonna move to G. What what does that mean. Now Beth just asked a great question how do you work on scale fingering though. Good question. Beth I do. I just later. So we’re going to get to that in a second.
But the main thing for me in the beginning is just that I want them to understand what we’re even doing because too often I think that we just we just say we just introduce scales and like this is what we’re going to do. Let’s go. And it doesn’t mean anything to students and young students will go with you ok. Especially during the lesson they’re just going to go with you. They may be less likely to practice at home and they definitely are not getting the reason behind it. And we won’t students to be intrinsically motivated. We want them to understand why they’re doing stuff and especially older students. But even the younger students they can’t understand it they can grasp why scales are important. What what we’re doing them for and what it’s all about. So that’s why the improv to start. Now I want to send several people have said that I wasn’t going to say anything. Several people were mentioning my hair and my hair is straight today because I went to the hairdresser.
It will be curly again tomorrow. I never straightened myself. So enjoy it last. It will be gone tomorrow. I’m never going to the effort of straightening it myself at home.
Not happening. So if you’re just joining us now. We are not talking about hairstyles. What we’re talking about is scales and technical drills and how to make them fun. And I’ve just started with level 1 which is fantastic foundations but I want to give you a chance to jump in on the giveaway. So you need to answer this question just to get in on the giveaway. It is a favorite ways to work on scales whatever your favorite way is even if that’s just throwing them up and down and using metronome of a Down. That’s it. No fun to be had there. That’s fine. Or if you just haven’t come up with other ideas that’s fine too. But make sure you answer VMT color that you want to win. Which president do you want to win. That’s optional you don’t need to include that. You do have to start with VMT and you do have to answer the question if you’ve not answered the question you’re not going in the drawing and you will never get inside this beautiful coconut called Island which is how you win. And I’ll be announcing the winner for today. Towards the end of today’s workshop. First of all moving on in our level 1 so we talked about improvisation. A company is the next stage. And that’s what I’m doing a little bit there but as we start to explore the fingering I will also accompany them while they’re playing with the actual fingering that the actual fingering the lingering patterns that we teach. OK. So as we’re learning those and as I’m teaching them to them I will accompany them and also use apps to do that like real pro music lock which was Jennifer someone already mentioned there in the comments.
Music is great for that. It’s super simple. If you’re just getting started on tech and all that stuff go with music look if you’re pretty comfortable techie kind of person go with repro. It’s not impossible to use. I’m not saying it’s really hard and you need to be a coder or something but it’s a little bit less intuitive. Let’s just say that it’s got more going on and therefore it makes it a little bit less easy to use if you want something easy just jump into music. Use that is on iPad iPhone. Don’t think it’s on Android but scale tracks might be on both not remembering off the top of my head scale tracks is another one and so is smart scales. They all provide backing tracks for scales and they’re great ways for students to be practicing at home and doing it in the lesson when they are working on the fingerings when they’re building them up. And as someone mentioned there before piano maestro Nicolet piano maestro is a great way for them to practice where they can actually see the notation. My preference is for non notation. I never read scales and I don’t think it’s particularly helpful at the beginning stages but I’m not you know extremely of an extremely strong opinion either way. You find it useful to have notation. That’s fine. I just like to take scales as a break from notation because there’s enough of it that I love this comment from there but I still hate scales. I don’t let on to my students and they mostly enjoy them.
I like the improv idea with new skills that they want to convert you and I think I’ve tried before. Scales are not miserable things. They can be fun. Start improvising with them. That is the surest way to enjoying them yourself. Enjoying working on them because you get to listen to your student actually making music. Okay. And even as they progress they can do scales with improvising all along the way. Not just for the beginning stages the next stage though in level 1 where the next part can be done concurrently is visual. And for this I have little erasers. Of course I use my head for this. I also use these dudes these are even smaller and I got these in San Francisco so they were in a U.S. based station. That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to find them. What’s it called. I don’t see the name of the store there but it was a massive stationery store and I don’t know what it’s called. Isn’t that helpful. Anyway this is what they look like they’re just tiny erasers. I like these and especially for scales because they are flat flatter than the hedgehog’s smaller and therefore easier to balance on the black keys. So both worked great but I like these for scales recently and I use these notes on the actual keyboard and on things like this. This is a game called scale engineer. And in this they have different cards and you can choose which ones to take. Like if they haven’t done g sharp in the beginning you would take that out but they’re working on building up the scales on the visual representation of the keyboard.
And that way they actually know what the pattern is one of the biggest pitfalls I think in beginning teaching of scales is actually this is the way I remember them for years is that they’re not getting a lot of the benefits. You can get from scale’s because they’re just using muscle memory and the muscle memory is great and we want to build that and that’s important. And it’s really useful when they come up and besides we already know how to play them great. Oh fantastic stuff but you can glean so much more from scale’s if you actually understand them. If you actually know that there are five flats in D flat whereas if you just do them by up and down and up and then you never stop to think about it. It’s very easy to just not even know that and have to literally think through it in your mind which is what I used to do. And similarly to what we talked about with mnemonics for note names on the first day it’s just an extra step. And if they’ve done it before it’s a little bit faster. So just my thoughts are on the actual different ways of looking at scales and what we can get out of them and how we can maximize them.
So one way is to use visual patterns placing the little erasers on the keys and asking them to do that before they play. You can also ask them to tell you stuff before they play. So I’d always be doing one of these things with scales never just a scale always. They are placing the erasers on the keys to show me the pattern before they play it or they’re telling me something about it. This is the quicker one to do obviously. So what are they telling me. Tell me how many sharps are in it. Tell me what finger it starts on tell me the full fingering pattern tell me how many black keys how many white keys. Any question you can come up with but just some little test quote unquote test that makes them think so they’re not trying to do it on automatic pilot so that they do actually know something about it and it makes them more reliable too and then fingering. So getting them to say the fingering layout. Getting them to write the fingering on keyboard diagrams getting them to try it with different fingering and see why that’s wrong. I often also get my students practice with just finger tubes not practice. I should say that I should try it. Good luck.
Just once in the lesson try it was finger too. You’d be surprised how many students know a scale backwards and forwards at the right fingering and actually when you tell them to play it with finger 2 they can’t do it and it’s because they don’t actually know what notes are in it. Just muscle memory and that’s missing out on so much. Tell me what you think of these tips as we go through here and Birdie said she just download and pretend that that game that scale engineer. That’s awesome and block it out says Kaleen for scale. That’s great. Says I have tried to make her enjoy scales that is respect them but now I hate them improvise. You said you haven’t improvised so you haven’t tried hard enough. We’re gonna do it. Beth you’re gonna love them. Birley says. I’ve been having them right and fingering away from the keyboard the past two weeks and some struggle with it. Yeah it’s surprising how many do and how many struggle to say what notes are in it and anything else. And like I say I know I would have years and years of studies having played scales in multiple octaves conjuring emotions arpeggios and everything and I couldn’t really tell you what they were for quite a long time.
So Level 2 we’re moving into this is a shorter Level. Level 2 is the application and this can start to happen within Level 1 but it’s really the next stage of understanding all of that stuff in Level 1 that’s great foundations they should be able to improvise with their scales. In the beginning using just finger 2 and helping Arend and as they progress using all of their fingers and using the correct fingering but turning around wherever they want to and switching it up and doing it in thirds and all that stuff that’s just going to happen naturally as they improvise with it then accompanying. So playing with an accompaniment staying in time with you or with the backing track using visual layouts of scales whether it’s on a keyboard diagram using the races on the keys that kind of stuff or scale engineer those types of games using verbal scales with telling you things about it talking you through it telling you what notes are in it telling you what the fingering is and all of that stuff singing it left out and saying absolutely and talking about the fingering as well as using the correct fingering and blocking and I like Kaleen just suggested there where you do it and blocks if you haven’t tried that before. I presume that’s what clean means. I talk about this as clusters.
But like if you’re playing D major you would play the first three d e f sharp as one block then you move up and you’ve got five together if you’re playing one octave and don’t make sense.
So you’re playing them as two clusters that can be very helpful for some students and also for others it can reveal that they actually don’t even know what I’m talking about and that they don’t guess that there are patterns involved in scales that actually make sense like that three and five make eight. And so do four and four and that’s why those two patterns happen. Stuff like that. That sounds obvious but maybe we haven’t thought it through. Maybe they haven’t thought it through. So it does help to talk the things that can help them see it from a different perspective. So when we’re talking about applying scales what I mean here is that we are first of all composing with them improvising more and more and more and more. I mean you that guy out of my face and investigating OK so improvising more and more and more and talking about it and then starting to have them improvise solo with their scales so they have a right hand scale and the left hand accompaniment of some type can start off super simple it can just be a 1 and 5. And that’s it that can be it in the beginning and just doing them for four that that will be enough of a challenge and just playing their scale up and down and as they get used to that pattern then they can start to actually improvise a little bit change the rhythm up and switch up the pattern skip notes as well as tapping that kind of stuff.
Incorporate their arpeggio and you can build up the different patterns and take them out of their pieces to when they’re working on the improv. Then we want them to compose with scales. This is something I’ve left out and I am super guilty of still not including enough but I want to do it more assigning a new scale and asking your student to compose something with it a melody of two bars. It doesn’t have to be a massive thing. It can be small it can be tiny but it will make a massive difference in how much they understand teaching by how much they understand the actual structure of it right and what it is for. What’s the point of it. Because we compose pieces with scales. That’s why they exist. You know there are patterns that we use to make music and composing can help them internalize that and then investigating becoming a detective looking at their pieces. Every time you start a new piece look for this Gaile find the scale segments or the chord patterns or the. Arpeggio patterns whatever comes up in that piece. Deign to ask a question Do you have a book.
The piece is planned for teaching scales or plan for that. This is so much great information. Dana I mentioned there that the circle of fifths Odyssey is coming and that is a plan for teaching scales all major scales and stole much more and you could certainly extend yourself into the same pattern with all the miners. And so taking them on an odyssey around the circle of fifths and they’ll be exploring scales along the way primarily scales and then a bit of chords and accompaniment thrown in as well in a really fun way incorporating games of course and improvising all the way across so look forward to that that’s about 10 days out or something like that very very soon. So that level two of scales in my mind is where we’re applying that knowledge understanding and in the context of composing finding it in pieces and picking them out the patterns and seeing them now that they know the scales or at least some of them the ones that are relevant to what you’re working on and improvising more and getting them to do solo improvisation. So they’re really getting inside the skin of scales. Beth says a bit like Paul Harris simultaneous learning how he uses techniques and everything.
Yes bring it all together. I love Paul Harris’s work. Absolutely. That’s exactly the page I’m on bringing everything together. Scales are not an isolated exercise that we do for the sake of them or to stretch our fingers or some nonsense. They are a valuable thing to do because of all the stuff they can do. And if we don’t do this stuff straight away students don’t get that they don’t connect the dots. They don’t see the point to them. They don’t practice them or at least even if they do practice and they don’t enjoy them and they should enjoy them including you Beth you should enjoy them too. So level three is to randomise and challenge. This is where students are getting pretty good with scales at least a certain set. Whatever your set is and then we’re going to randomize that work and challenge them to really accelerate the scans now that they know what they’re for rather than doing this the other way around. They now know what the scales are for what the point of them is and why they’re fantastic and they need to randomize and challenge and help them push themselves forward because they know what they are.
But the point is right so they can see intrinsically they are motivated to do it and you giving them that little bit of a structure around that it just makes sense to them it’s not about you pushing your own goals and aspirations on them. They have that and we need to push them forward to really get to grips with them and they’ll be on board with that.
So it was loads of great resources for this and let me see here scale stars is a recent one from VMT. This was last month and this is extra special because a member think it was Brenda could be wrong and that it was. Brenda asked me if I could create something that she could use for different exam levels like as a chart for tracking scales. Doesn’t sound very much like a game but I see where she’s going but it would have to be adaptable to different exam systems.
I’m not going to make one for Abey or Samman one frame maybe and one for the Americans who use no exam system one for our CM and one for Rehame which is the Irishwoman.
No that’s not happening. So what I’m going to do is make one that you can put in your own scales and it’ll come out with a few resources that will be useful for them. So this is a form that VMT members can fill in. And if you’re a member and you haven’t tried it try it out. Few members have gotten in touch with me saying look but what do I put in the boxes. And I’m like well anything. And also you can just try it and then throw away what you get because you realize how it works and it was all wrong. So this is how it works. It generates 3 different things so you put in a bunch stuff here I put in C major country motion E flat minor country motion G minor and separately G Major arpeggio three octaves etc. write F dominant 7.
It’s just a random mix this would never be an exam. But you know I wanted to show the different options here and it generates these which are cars that you can’t see.
There we go. That’s not angle. These are the scales just cards. It also generates this sheet. This is so there’s a star outside of each one and it says notes Larry and slow and steady getting faster mastered started to light weird and here so it’s hard for me to read. I would fill in the stars as I’m going so that they can track their progress. OK I know the notes. Then I’m at this stage then I’m at this stage they’re working up through the levels there and then there’s a third one which is this ganster speed tracker. This is what this looks like. And are stars beside different speeds. And again if any of these don’t appeal to you like someone was saying but I don’t want to focus on speed Grun throw that away. It doesn’t matter you can just print the cards and use them put them in a hot or coconut and draw them out one by one or give them to the student and they can use them at home to randomize it. Yes. Thank you Jennifer. Kaleen.
That is called scale STRs. And actually if you go to the library just go to music teaching dot com slash library the home page of the library. It’ll be close to the top so it’s easy to find because it’s quite new.
So yeah scale stories. And there’s a card there’s a street tracker and there’s the star tracker as well. So those are a great way to randomize scales and really level up student scale practice at this third stage. Another great way to do it is using Spinner’s and I’ve actually homemade spinner’s myself for various student grades and I do like the physical versions I have to say. I think that that bit more fun but I know it’s so hard when you have all these different students doing all different sets of scales and you know it would be a lot of making spinners and spinners are not the quickest thing to make. So great option is something I decide now I’m sure many of you know this but this is the way it works. It spins around like this looks so bright on the screen. That’s crazy. And it says a. And what I like about Syedna recently is that they’ve added that deactivate button so you can clean just suggested the same thing which is why I I’m devastated this side now and she’s a couple of them is behind me and she just suggested that that’s hilarious. Okay but I know it is great for that because you can create your own spinner’s on the fly and it’s really quick and it is pretty fun. I like the physical spinner’s when I want to invest a bit more time but at that decide that app is awesome for that. Another great way to work on SCAN’s at this stage is with jewels jewels between students.
So this is where you get two students together as many of you might know. I teach buddy lessons so I have two students together quite a lot of the time. I also teach partner lessons where they’re together for the whole period of the lesson.
Either way you can get them working together on scales. I like to have them work with music look and be open up music. Actually for those of you who haven’t seen it kind of see it on the screen right. So I opened up musiclock and used that for backing track. I now have one of them choose the scale we’re going to work on and the other choose the backing track. So this is what music clock looks like. You can see it there. And if I play that
Hold it up to the mic. So they’re kind of Pop style ones.
Okay so I have one student choose a scale which is this cool wheel. One of the reasons I like music so much is actually just that it’s beautiful and that’s actually pretty important. It looks cool and then there’s all these different tracks here so you can take
Phoenix Pop or my favourite. I think it’s my favourite
Because I find students tend to play the most time without one but I also like the sound of it.
So that’s music lock and I’ll have to students work on that together and they’re sort of working against each other in a way but they’re not. You know it’s just a bit of friendly competition. You could also do a more formal scale battle where one student is testing the other student on their scales and they’re swapping places and you could use games like this one.
This is scale verse. Yeah sorry much luck showing things today and it has all these little tokens. Okay. These are notes and sharps and flats. So one student decides what school they’re going to do by laying the key signature and the other students are notation and they tried to attribute other up by choosing harder and harder scales and the fun part of that is it becomes cool to know really complicated scales because that means you’re more likely to trip the other person up island.
It’s a great way to practice notation outside of a theory book. You know it’s much more fun. Apart from Jules you can also set up a challenge like my scale challenges so I have scale challenges that I do in my studio.
This is a big part of how my students work on leveling up their scales past the beginning stages the first level is sort of beginner level late beginner maybe is all major scales. One octave similar motion country motion and the arpeggio of all majors. Next-Level. All minors I do harmonic minute first so all the harmonic miners next level is all majors two octaves and all of those configurations minus two octaves and then the top level is three octaves and two obviously with countries and then all the three types of minors as well.
Yeah so it’s pretty epic. I have to say but as they move forward in those changes they’re getting their name on the challenge board which if you haven’t seen before you can check it out on the block but they get their name up there and they get some glory and they get the sticker on the front of folder and they get to be proud of themselves. And like I say they already have that intrinsic understanding of why scales are important and why they’re valuable and why they’re fun and how they can be fun and had they can practice them in fun ways. So the challenge is just provide this physical manifestation of that. Like when they get to a certain level which is which is great fun for them. Right.
I really hope you enjoyed that training and that you got a lot out of it. If you want to see the video and see where I’m pointing to various things at different points in it then you can catch that at Vibert music teaching dot com slash b day b d a y. And that’s where you can also find all seven of these free trainings that I did on the of wikis Facebook page. Of course you can also catch them on the Facebook page itself if you prefer to navigate these things through Facebook.
That’s it for now. Hope you enjoyed it and I’ll catch you next time.
If you enjoyed this training and like the idea of game of buying more of your teaching you have to become a Vibert music teaching member. That’s where all the fun stuff lives go to VMT dot ninja to sign up today and get access to the brand new circle of fave’s Odyssey course as well as many others.
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