Recital “Medicine”

It’s 8 days and counting to recital day in my studio.  I always enjoy this time of year – at lesson after lesson I get to hear polished, or “almost-there” music.  It’s a treat for my ears!

For most students the week before the recital means that their piece is ready to go… except for that one measure that’s still hard to play with both hands, or that section of rhythm they never remember to count right, or the place that the dynamics aren’t second nature, or that other spot…..  A stash of leftover candy from last week’s group games has been just what the doctor ordered to get these trouble spots perfected!

Several years ago, I picked up the idea for a “4 times” game from a magazine article.   It’s really simple (I’m sure many teachers do something like this):  We take 4 small objects and place them on one side of the piano.  Every time a student plays a tricky spot correctly, they move one object over to the other side.     Their goal is to get all of the objects moved with the least number of reps possible.  If you’re really going for polish, you can decide that every time they miss a note they have to move one back, which means they’ll have to play the section 4 times perfectly in a row to complete the game.  Talk about a challenge!!!

In my studio, we usually play with these colored gemstones.  Some students LOVE getting to arrange the colors and pick which gemstone they’ll be trying to earn first:

This week, though, for a little extra fun, we’re using the leftover M&Ms and Skittles from group classes.   Instead of moving a piece from one side of the keyboard to the other, when the student correctly plays a measure or section they get to move the candy directly to their mouth!

I’ve been a little devious with the candy version – with many students, I didn’t tell them ahead of time that we were playing the “4 times” game.  I simply said that they could take “a few” pieces of candy and place them by the side of the keys.   The more they took, the more measures I got to pick that had to be performed correctly before the student got to eat a piece of the candy!!

I also play a variation of this game with some students.  Instead of using the gemstones or candy to drill the same section 4 times, we’ll pick a whole line or phrase to work on.   To earn each different color, the student must demonstrate a different skill.  For example, to earn the dark blue gemstone, I might ask the student to play all the notes correctly (we don’t worry about rhythm or anything else at that point).   Next, to earn the light blue stone, they must play both the notes AND rhythm correctly.  For the green one, they add dynamics or articulations.  For the clear one, they might have to do the whole shebang – from memory.

This is a great drill to teach students how to learn a line of music at home, and really “clicks” with kids who thrive on clear sequential learning.    It also came in really handy when I was prepping students to perform for a festival.    I assigned one color of gemstone to go with each category on the judge’s sheets (i.e. accuracy, rhythm, musicianship, stage presence, memory).  By the time they got to the festival, the kids knew exactly what the judge would be listening for.


Recital “Medicine” — 6 Comments

  1. I remember longing for the candy dish at my first piano teacher’s house. She kept it over the TV – I still see it clearly.

    But today I question candy as an incentive. How about grapes? Fruit? Pretzels? Healthy candy?

  2. Thats funny jen…I was just playing this game today with a student…only we used “magic notes” They really like the challenge of getting it correct 4 times in a row…the funny thing is…I usually use 3…or 5, today I used 4 and then I saw your post-lol! +:-D

  3. Great idea! This would have been absolutely perfect last week as our recital is Saturday, but I’m going to remember it for another performance time! Thanks for the idea!

  4. Ellen – I do hear your concern about the candy. I like to use goldfish crackers or teddy bears when we do food activities at group lessons. Those seem to have a little more nutritive value and don’t get the kids too revved up on sugar! The “real” candy only pops out when it’s a special holiday or end-of-semester group. I’d be in trouble if I kept that stuff in the studio year-round – I think I’d have a hard time not getting into it!!

    Elizabeth – It’s funny you mention the number. “4” came about because there are 4 different colors of gemstones in the bag I bought! If I had different manipulatives, my magic number could have easily been different! I do change it up sometimes when I send the game home as an assignment. I let students pick out a color of post-it flag to put by the trouble spot in their music, then they get to pick (with a little guidance sometimes), how many times they want to repeat it, and mark that number on the flag. It’s funny to hear how many times kids think they need to practice (I’m fond of “100” myself….).

    Mindy – Good luck with your recital this weekend!

  5. Hi Jen,
    LOVED this post. I used it with one of my students yesterday (used candy) and it worked like a charm.
    I have also been using your SMILE-O-METER with my exam students and it’s been a great hit. It’s a great tool to keep track of the students’ progress and keep the parents in the “know”… Thank you again, for you inspirational ideas..!

  6. I used your smile-o-meter in group class. I had my two older students be “smile judges.” It was such fun and the kids loved getting their sheets. Thanks for the great ideas!

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