Instruments in Class: Tips & Tricks 2

Lesson ideas

  • Before we play instruments, we practice holding mallets, either with each child holding mallets or practicing with rhythm sticks on the floor.
  • “Lightly pinch the mallets between your thumb and pointer finger, then wrap the rest of your fingers around the mallet… very loosely. Now very tightly. Now loosely.
  • “Show me your chicken wings.” (We flap our elbows up and down.) “Show me too high.” (elbows parallel to floor) “Show me too low.” (elbows squeezed next to body) “Now somewhere in between.” “THAT’S what you want!” “Make sure shoulders stay down.”
  • “Check your knuckles. Make sure they are looking at the ceiling. Show me knuckles looking at the floor. Nope! Now show me knuckles looking at the ceiling. Great!”
  • “Relax! Shake out your tension!”
  • “Practice hitting the floor so the ball of the mallet feels like it bounces.” I demonstrate the difference between playing a “dead” sound by leaving the mallets on the bars too long, muffling the sound. Then I show them the bouncing movement. It takes some practice (again, they are hitting the floor on the steady beat with mallets or rhythm sticks), so walk around and help those who need it. Remind them to NEVER play the instruments with pencils or rhythm sticks. Only with the mallets. “Why? Because we want to take good care of our instruments!”
  • Then we practice “resting,” “ready,” and “playing” positions.
    • Resting = mallets down on instrument
    • Ready = hold mallets in correct position right above the instrument, eyes looking at the instrument so you know what bars to play
    • Play = rolled loose fingers, bouncing mallets, chicken wings, knuckles up
  • My xylophones and metallophones are numbered – either just numbers or “X1” or “M1.” So when it’s time to play, I say, “Johnny, xylophone 1. Susie, xylophone 2….” Then before the first child gets to the instrument, I sing this – and soon the students learn it and start singing along.
  • Sometimes I put students in pairs with one of them playing and the other facing the person on the other side of the xylophone pointing to (not touching) the correct notes. It’s good practice for them to learn to say kind helpful words – and to give positive reinforcement – to each other.
  • I usually remove only the outside bars. For instance, if the notes are F and C’, I remove the E and D’ (one note below the F and one note above the C’). Then I tell them to play “Fries and Cheeseburgers.” It helps them remember F and C. So, here are words I say:
    • G/D = Glazed Donuts
    • F/C = Fries & Cheeseburgers
    • E/B = Eggs & Bacon
    • D/A = Dates & Apples
    • C/G = Candy & Gum

gathering drum

When to introduce instruments

I’m just going to give some ideas of what I do and have done. It really depends on your teaching style, whether you use lots of Orff and you have lots of instruments and how long/how often you see the kids. That being said, here’s what I have done.

  • I now teach preschool (infants to Pre-K) once a week for about 20 minutes each. I demonstrate the beat while they play instruments (and hopefully are starting to find that beat) – and I get at least one instrument out – just about each lesson. (If there is a lesson when I didn’t use instruments, it’s because we used something else like scarves or a parachute.) Sometimes it’s just the gathering drum; other times it’s jingle bells, tambourines, hand drums, rhythm sticks… (Here is a list of instruments I recommend.)
  • To be honest, when I taught K-5, I didn’t have Kindergartners play instruments very often. I think I would do that differently now that I have taught Pre-K and I see what they are capable of.  So, I would encourage you to at least try steady beat with the young ones on different instruments. However, keep in mind that the coordination may not be developed enough to play some instruments. For instance, guiros and cabasas are sometimes tricky for kids to play. Hand drums have to be held in the hands (hence, the name!), or else they sound like a thud – so small ones are easier for the small hands.
  • If you are going to let younger players play Orff instruments, I encourage you to completely remove all bars except the ones they are to play. It is much easier for young students to play with both hands at the same time than to alternate.

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