I bought the electronic version of the new book by Philip Johnston called The Dynamic Studio: How to keep students, dazzle parents, and build the music studio everyone wants to get into. Philip Johnston writes inspiring books that get me enthused to teach in different ways. One of his main ideas is to be different; don’t always do the same thing. Maybe that was on my mind when I decided to use rhythm instruments in my group lessons.
After an unsuccessful search for an easy piano/rhythm band ensemble I could use in a group lesson without a lot of preparation, I wrote my own. I arranged this specifically to be easy enough that they could be successful without having to practice, so please keep that in mind.
I wrote the second piano part for an electric bass, which some students can play. This part can also be played on the piano, so I call it Piano 2 in the score. You can also use bells or any other tuned instrument, and it sounds fine to omit it.
The first group was my youngest students. They absolutely loved the instruments. But if you have ever used rhythm instruments with young children, you know what a challenge they are. I didn’t mind that some of them could not play the written part and just played the steady beat. I was surprised that a few of them actually followed the score. I let the little beginner on the bells shake them through the entire song rather than the way I wrote it in the score. No one in that group reads well enough for the piano part. I had to play by ear because I could not find the piano score! That seemed to amuse the young group.
The second group of 9 and 10-year-old students was absolutely the right age for this activity. Without any practice, (except for the Piano 1 part, which I gave to a 5th grader the week before) they were able to read the score and play the correct rhythm. We traded instruments and repeated it a few times. I am only sorry that I didn’t record it, because they did really well. The student playing the piano part was thrilled to be part of an ensemble.
After that, we changed directions and performed on the piano for each other using good performance skills. Everyone had learned a Christmas song or a favorite piece. That did not take too long and we went on to the next activity.
They had all been looking at the electric bass and wondering why it was there. We discussed the history of the electric bass and how it was like the double bass. I also got in some theory with the older groups, as we discussed the root of chords and how that is an easy way to play the bass. This is where taking our state theory exam really helped. I demonstrated with my meager guitar skills (Me on the electric bass, how funny was that!) and then let them all try it.
Our last activity was playing a Thanksgiving board game, with different level cards for each age group. I was relieved my students enjoyed the game because I had not tried it out with a group. Even my older students had fun and reviewed some theory at the same time. Finally, we just had enough time to pass out cookies and candy canes, and they all left happy.
Later I asked what was their favorite activity. Can you guess what it was? The rhythm instruments! So with that in mind, I am sharing my simple score with you. Feel free to change the instruments to whatever you have on hand, even homemade instruments.
Obviously you don’t need a score for this simple rhythm section, but my students found it interesting, and it helped me focus. If one of your students has a family member who can play the Piano 2 part on the electric bass or any other instrument, that would be really fun, especially for a Christmas recital! Please alert me if you find any mistakes in my score, as I don’t have an editor. Have fun and if you have a successful performance, let me know!