It’s group week again in our studio! Many of my students will be taking theory exams later this spring, so we’ve been doing LOTS of theory review this month in preparation. One of the skills my elementary students are required to demonstrate on their exams is proper stem placement. We usually don’t spend much time covering that particular objective (other than an explanation and a worksheet or two), but after working through a Hands-On-Rhythm creative assignment with several students last week that required them to copy music and draw stems, I decided it might be time for a refresher!
I wanted my students to get a good dose of practice, but not be bored (stem placement isn’t really the most exciting theory concept out there), so a game was in order! We called this “Simple Stems”:
There are two game boards, each 5 “panels” of paper long (one treble clef and one bass clef board). Students are divided into 2 teams, and each receives a board. To play, one team spins to determine a color (more about the spinner below), then places “stems” up to that color of note. The next team follows, and play continues back and forth. On each turn, teams place all of their stems, then signal that they are ready for the teacher to check their board. If they have mis-placed a stem, they must remove all stems placed after that note and start from the missed note on their next turn. The first team to reach and correctly place a stem on the Red “FINISH” note at the end of the board wins (players must spin “RED” on their last turn to win).
I used black wikki-sticks (or bendaroos) cut to approx. 2″ lengths as stems. They stick nicely to the board, and won’t shake loose if a student accidentally bumps the board. Toothpicks or other short craft sticks would also work.
Back at the beginning of the school year, I ran across a package of blank spinners at our local teacher store. This game finally gave me an reason to use one! I printed clear label stickers with directions and applied them to each color of the spinner:
If you don’t have a teacher supply store nearby, you can order spinners online (do a search for 6-color spinner, or check out this store), or could easily substitute a 6-sided die, and designate a color or action for each of the numbers. I always like to have a couple of directions mixed in that keep things interesting, so you never know who’s going to win in the end. These are the directions we used:
* Move forward to RED
* Move backward to YELLOW (players must remove stems back to the last yellow note)
* Move forward to GREEN
* LOSE A TURN
* Move forward to ORANGE and spin again
* Move forward to PURPLE
The game board is available for download on my studio site (scroll down to “Simple Stems”). You’ll need to cut apart the boards, then trim the 1/2″ margins from the left and right side of the paper and tape the pages together to make one long board. If you tape the boards so that they easily “hinge” at the seams, it’s easy to fold them so you can play a short version of the game, using only 3 pages if you’re one-on-one with a student, or fold out all 5 pages for groups.