Maybe Hannah Montana?
July 31, 2008 9:45 AM   Subscribe

How do you keep kids interested in a music class?

Posting for a friend: I'm teaching a music class to low-income families' children at a local Latino community center. There aren't any pianos or instruments except two keyboards, but I want to get the kids interested and excited about learning music. The thing is, I don't know how to approach and teach them without them losing interest. I definitely think that learning how to read music is very important, but that can become quite boring.

So, should I teach them simple songs to play on the keyboard, would they be interested in that even? Song suggestions, maybe? Or something else entirely? Basically, I need some ideas on how to get these kids interested in learning music as well as coming to the next class.

By the way, the ages of these kids might range from 6-16, but mostly around 8-10.
posted by Weebot to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Introduce them to different types of music to help them open up their little ears. Play hip hop, rap, salsa, world, showtunes, opera, Motown, classical, all kinds. Have musicians come in to play for them. Teaching them to appreciate experiencing music will go a long way in making them interested in learning how to create music.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:57 AM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

A drum circle of sorts is a good introduction to rhythm, and you can use anything (pots and pans) for this.
posted by markblasco at 10:19 AM on July 31, 2008

Great suggestions PinkSuperhero! Another idea is to have the kids make some musical instruments and accompany your friend on the keyboard. I did a quick search and found this site. Crafts are great and playing along with another person can show them quite a bit about time signatures or rhythm even teamwork.
posted by Craig at 10:20 AM on July 31, 2008

Let them suggest the songs. Teach them to play the stuff that they already like.
posted by equalpants at 10:20 AM on July 31, 2008

My music teacher was batshit crazy. We all loved going to class and paid attention because we never knew what the crazy bastard was going to do next.
posted by milqman at 10:22 AM on July 31, 2008

A tip from someone I know who is a music teacher in an elementary school: switch from thing to thing every five minutes. If you play a game, switch to singing a song before the kids have time to get bored. Don't let them stop to take a breath at any point during the class. Whether they come back next week for another class depends on how fun you make it for them, so make it fun! Play lots of games, where they will learn without realizing it.

Some ideas for your friend:
1) draw a staff on a big cardboard sheet, and get some little beanbags. Have the kids throw the beanbags onto a specified line or space (helps them memorize which notes go where).
2) Write a song. Using the extra-big staff and beanbags, get each kid to throw a beanbag on a line or a space. Sing or play the result. Get the kids to make up crazy lyrics to go with.
3) Sing a round or one of those part songs where four songs can be sung together. (Hint: look up "One bottle of pop/fish and chips and vinegar/Don't throw your junk in my backyard". That one works wonders.)
4) Sing an action song, like "Swimming, Swimming, In a Swimming Pool"
5) Play the kazoom game. Teacher starts by clapping a four beat pattern with their hands. The kids follow suit. While the kids are clapping the four beats, the teacher switches to another rhythm, maybe eighth notes or something. Kids have to both clap, and listen for the next rhythm. Then they have to mimic the rhythm they're hearing. This is a great game for concentration. If it looks too easy for the kids, start speeding up the tempo until everyone derails. Guaranteed laughs all around.

Also, how enthusiastic your friend is will influence how enthusiastic the kids are.

Wish your friend good luck from me!
posted by LN at 10:27 AM on July 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

By the way, once the kids know it, the kazoom game is great for getting the kids attention at the beginning of class without the teacher having to yell.
posted by LN at 10:30 AM on July 31, 2008

Can I nth the "Teach them to play what they like" idea?

As a child my mother forced me to play piano. Bach and some other classical pieces...none of this excited me. I learned a couple songs I liked on my own but was so bogged down with these basic "fundamentals" taught to me by a 70 year old nun that I hated every minute of it and quit as soon as I turned 13. HATED IT.

I now regret that I cannot play an instrument, but I realized a bit later if they were teaching me songs I knew, songs I liked, songs I could show off to my friends, then I would have taken an interest. It's all about making it relatable.

An instrument is work...there needs to be reward for the work.
posted by arniec at 11:21 AM on July 31, 2008

You could give some examples of unconventional instruments. Like Leroy Anderson's Typerwriter Song. Or jug bands - the kids will already understand things like playing with a rubber band or blowing across the top of a soda bottle to make sound. It might be cool to point out the musical aspect of that. Or the percussionists who play on top of those white barrels/trash cans. If there's any way your friend could get recordings/pictures of things like didgeridoos that would be cool.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:36 AM on July 31, 2008

Oh, just remembered! If you could get some recordings by composer Robert W. Smith, I bet the kids would get a kick out of listening to parts of that. Especially The Great Locomotive Chase - once they learns their instrument families it would be fun to mix-and-match or guess what is what (how to make the crossing sound? the wheels? the whistle? the steam?)
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:39 AM on July 31, 2008

Another fun thing to do with kids is to talk about moods in music - play something like "The Funeral March of the Marionette" (the theme to Alfred Hitchcock Presents), and ask the kids to say what mood they think it conveys to them. Then play them the Ralph Marterie and his Marlboro Men version (hot swing band stuff), and ask them to tell you how that changed the mood of the piece.
posted by LN at 11:53 AM on July 31, 2008

Getting your hands on some Raymond Scott is also a great idea - he was Carl Stalling's inspiration for a great deal of music from the Looney Tunes soundtracks. "Powerhouse", for example, is the tune used for any conveyor belt/mechanical/industrial imagery in the Looney Tunes shorts. Play the song without explaining what it's about, and have the kids draw pictures to portray what imagery they see when they hear the song. Then explain where the song comes from, what it's supposed to portray, and play them some Looney Tunes shorts containing it as a bonus!
posted by LN at 12:05 PM on July 31, 2008

I have spent some time watching our music teacher teach my students (elementary school). First of all, kids love music. Play music for them to engage them immediately. Then teach them about rhythm. Have them clap. Then teach them about beats. Then teach them notes and rests. Then write different rhythms on the board. Model everything for them and reinforce how to interpret those written notes and rests with claps. Do some activities calling for them to make up their own rhythms, interpret rhythms you write on the board, etc.

To teach them about volume, teach them a simple song. Use Row, Row, Row your Boat or whatever you want. Call on a volunteer, who will be the "seeker", and have them stand in the corner. Tell another student to hide an object somewhere in the classroom. Everybody starts singing the song quietly. As the seeker roams around the classroom, the class sings the song with more or less volume, depending on how close the seeker is to the object.

Keep things moving, don't do any single activity for more that 10 minutes, keep things challenging but fun and doable. Make things fun, use songs they know and like, make things interactive, call on lots of volunteers because kids love watching their friends demonstrate something a lot more than they like watching the teacher do it.
posted by HotPatatta at 2:11 PM on July 31, 2008

Reprising a lot of what's been said here, how about something a little meta: recreate this video with them? (And then post the result to Youtube, and seeing whether it gets the million or so the offical one tallied up?)
posted by progosk at 2:32 PM on July 31, 2008

Singing is great in things like this - following along with sheet music will help them read music AND get a better grasp on the idea of melody. Maybe even alternate singing a song's words with singing the solfage syllables?
posted by clcapps at 3:02 PM on July 31, 2008

With only two keyboards, you might want to focus on rhythm. Lucky for you, there are enough latin rhythms to fill several courses. Have them clap, get arts-and-craftsy and make guiros and claves.

Also, introduce the kids to popular Latin music like Reggaet├│n and more traditional stuff. Have them bring in their own CDs and talk about how the music on the CDs might be influenced by the musical genres outlined in the class.

And dance.
posted by The White Hat at 9:30 PM on July 31, 2008

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