By James Frankel, Ed.D.
So, you are one of the very fortunate recipients of a new SoundTree/VH1 Save the Music Keyboard Lab. All of the equipment has been unwrapped, you¹ve had some training, and hopefully by now you have been using the lab to teach some of your music curriculum. Like any new teaching tool, you probably have found your level of comfort and some successful learning experiences for your students. You may also have found some personal limitations with the system. The purpose of this article is to give you some quick classroom management tips, share some exciting teaching strategies that you can use in your keyboard lab today, and to illustrate that once you are more comfortable with your keyboard lab, the only limitation it has is your imagination.
As far as classroom management is concerned, you must make yourself comfortable with the GEC3 (the Group Education Controller). This is the central nervous system of your lab. There are so many useful features with the GEC3, and you should be taking advantage of all of them. First, take the time to enter in all of your class information. Although it may seem like a daunting task at first, entering the names of your students in each of the classes you teach will help you with classroom management by creating seating assignments (to keep those certain students apart). Make yourself comfortable with the Lecture, Practice and Group Modes. Learning how to use the modes effectively will also help you keep your classes running smoothly. Finally, make frequent use of the eavesdropping feature when you are Practice or Group mode. When students know that the teacher can hear what they are doing at all times, they tend to stay on task.
If you have not already, you will receive in the very near future my new curriculum guide written specifically for the SoundTree/VH1 Save the Music Keyboard Lab. It is entitled Teaching Classroom Music in the Keyboard Lab and it contains fifteen classroom-tested lesson plans for you to use in your lab. In the meantime, here are some lesson ideas for your lab.
1. ³Battle of the Bands² Try handing out some music written for a performance ensemble like concert band, chorus, or string orchestra and assign individual parts to individual students. Split your class into groups and have them rehearse the composition. After sufficient rehearsal time, bring the groups into Lecture mode and have them perform their piece. Have the other students evaluate each performance. Discuss which group performed their piece the best, and crown the winner of the Battle of the Bands!
2. ³Puzzle Pieces² Take a familiar tune (Twinkle, Twinkle) and cut the melody into one-measure segments. Do not tell the students what the name of the tune is. Have them work in small groups to reassemble the pieces of the melody. When the think they have it correct, have them perform it for the class in Lecture mode. Give each group a different melody for even more fun!
3. ³Round and Round² One great way to teach rounds is to have students work in groups to play a round. Take Frére Jacques and hand out the melody to each group. Discuss how rounds have staggered entrances. Have each student within the group play the melody in a sound patch of their choosing and then have the students perform the round for the class in Lecture mode. As an extension, try letting the students compose their own rounds.
4. ³Playing the Blues² Using the accompaniment feature of the Casio CTK-671, have the students play the chords of a 12-bar blues progression. Be sure to remind the students that in order to get a dominant seventh chord (G7) that they need to play a G and press the next two keys above it. Once the students have the hang of it, teach the students about the blues scale. Once they feel comfortable, you can have the students perform both the accompaniment and a blues solo. In Lecture mode, try having one student play the progression over and over while inviting other students in to play a solo over it. As an extension, see if your students could play both the progression and the solo simultaneously!
Teaching music in a keyboard lab offers some wonderful opportunities for both you as a teacher, and your students. Think of any lesson that you have taught over the past month outside of the keyboard lab, and think of ways that you could have taught the lesson in the lab. Instead of having students listen to an example, have them try playing it. Instead of having your students take a written quiz about a musical concept, have them take a performance quiz. While there are certain facets of music education that are better served outside of a keyboard lab, so many facets can be greatly enhanced within one. Don¹t be afraid to try new ideas in your lab. Your students are so excited about being in the keyboard lab; they probably won¹t mind if your lesson doesn¹t go as well as you¹d like it. The most important thing is that you use your lab as often as you can. The more you do, the more comfortable you¹ll be teaching in it, which in turn will create more and more wonderful learning experiences for your students.