I love to find ways to turn musical concepts into hands-on experiences for my students. Recently, I’ve had a number of students learning about legato and staccato, so re-purposed this old waiting room toy into a teaching aid:
This is a desktop sand garden that was given to me several years ago. I removed all the rocks, and leveled the sand to turn it into a blank “slate” for dictation.
To prepare for this activity, I first ask students to stand and move around the room as I improvise legato and staccato at the piano. Based on what they hear, I ask them to either glide like an ice skater, or “hop” like a fire dancer trying not to burn their toes! As they do this, I’ll draw their attention to how their feet contact the ground and ask them to imagine what kind of footprints or tracks they would leave. We notice that the ice skater makes one long line and the fire dancer leaves lots of little toe prints.
Next comes the sand garden! I’ll improvise again as students draw ice skater trails or fire dancer dots in the sand. When they’re done, we have a wonderful representation of legato and staccato symbols. We’ll pull out their music books and open to a page that has both articulations. Most students are immediately able to identify markings in the music that tell them to play smooth or detached. All that’s left to do is learn the Italian names for the articulations!
Sand is a particularly pleasing medium for students who thrive on tactile learning. I often have students come into my studio and ask to get to use the sand garden in their lesson if they see it out on the shelf. With young students, we also use the sand to map out simple rhythm durations. I’ll play a pattern of long and short notes and ask them to “draw” it in the sand using long and short lines.
If you don’t already own a sand garden (not something on the standard studio “equipment” list!!), you’ll find sand available in the craft sections of most stores (I picked up a refill batch for $2 the other week at Walmart). Pour it in a shallow tupperware or baking pan, and you’re all set. Sugar also works in a pinch!