This improv activity was a BIG hit with my students at group classes last week – we had so much fun that even my students who are timid about improvisation didn’t mind playing! For our “Mystery Bag” challenge, students were asked to use their senses to discover one of 9 foods inside their assigned bag, then improvise a song about it on the piano as their classmates tried to guess which food they had drawn.
Before students arrived, I prepared a variety of foods with different textures, and hid them inside plain brown paper bags. We used these foods: cooked spaghetti noodles, popcorn, jello, potato chips, fruit roll-up tape, dry ramen noodles, dry rice, big marshmallows and frozen peas. (Note: for the wet or greasy foods, I used a second ziploc bag inside the brown bag so as not to give away any clues!) I created cards with a picture of each food and it’s name, and hung them on my clothesline. When students arrived, they were instantly curious about what we were going to be doing!
Each student was allowed to choose a bag, then given a worksheet to help them think of all the ways to describe the food inside. The worksheet also guided them through how they could turn the characteristics of the food into music.
Once they had completed their worksheets, students performed their food improvs, while their peers guessed which card on the clothesline they thought best matched the music. Once we had identified a bag, students were all allowed to peek inside, then we clipped the card on the front.
I was pleasantly surprised at how easy this was for my students, and how expressive some of their improvs were! One of the things that I really like about this activity is that it lends itself to very abstract music – students can experiment with the expressive qualities of the sound without worrying about “wrong” notes. That’s a very important safety net for some “perfectionist” students who fear improv!!