Adaptive Music Classroom Activities for Teachers and Parents

Teaching children how to play music requires a multi-faceted approach that takes into account the child's strengths and weaknesses. By harnessing several modes of learning, you can help your child improve in music as well as other academic areas. Music teaches spatial reasoning skills required in both math and science. Using rhythm and pitch, you can create exercises that challenge your child in and enjoyable manner that works with the child's natural abilities.

Pitch Exercises

Highness and lowness of pitch are concepts that most people take for granted, but at some point, we all had to learn to identify different pitch levels. Intuitively, you can tell that a bird chirping is higher than a mountain lion's growl. Even an activity as simple as picking the higher versus lower sound can become challenging when you start to include different tones colors, also known as timbre (pronounced: tam-ber) into the exercise. Some children may be able to identify pitch better than others, but it's very rare to have an individually that lacks the ability to discern between different pitches.

In its most basic form, pitch is simply the measure of a frequency's speed over a given period of time. Students that are more literally and perhaps, perceptive, may recognize a higher pitch as a pitch that moves faster than other sounds. While the pitch doesn't actually travel any faster, higher pitches do have a faster frequency. Ask if the child can hear if a pitch is moving fast or slow, if you encounter a child that has difficulty recognizing pitches vertically. A good exercise involves playing two pitches and asking which pitch is higher. You can make the activity more advanced by asking students to sing the higher pitch, and then sing both pitches.

Rhythm Exercises

One of the most difficult concepts to teach is the concept of rhythm. Like pitch, most of us understand that some pitches are higher than others, and some rhythms are faster than others. We also know that some rhythms sound different, but how do you communicate those differences to your child? How do you begin to express that a quarter note is worth one beat? A single beat in most pieces falls on the pulse, but teaching a child how to find the pulse can be difficult at first.

One way to start to teach rhythm and beats is to play a song and have the students march in time with you to get a feel for the main beats. Another option involves turning on a metronome and clapping beats in time. As the student begins to correctly clap your rhythms back to you, you can begin to teach that that a quarter note lasts for the entire duration of a metronome click, and an eighth notes occurs twice in the space of a click. As you continue to teach these concepts, you can add more advanced rhythms, show the child what each note value looks like and eventually get them to read music on their own.

Melody Exercises 

Most people begin learning about melody by singing along with others in class, churches, and other group activities. If you are teaching a child to sing melodies, use songs that don't have very many skips or leaps. Also, choose a melody with a minimal range. You don't want to sing songs that are going to strain the voice and potentially hurt the vocal chords. If the child has trouble staying on key, use pitch matching and have the child sing each note of the song individually while listening to the same note being played on the piano. When the child begins to get more advanced, start having her sing scales and arpeggios to learn the basic pitches used in tonal music and develop her ability to sing in tune.

Listening Exercises

The point of a listening exercise isn't simply to get a child listening to music. Instead, you want to teach children how to enjoy listening to music. Many people don't know how to listen to classical music simply because they were never taught.

Think of a nostalgic moment in your past while listening to any of the Chopin piano pieces, and you can start to begin to understand the enjoyment that some people receive from listening to classical music. Teach the child how to identify the different melodies and phrases within a piece.

Listening exercises should come after all the other exercises have been introduced. Start by playing a piece and ask the child to raise his hand when the first melody completes. If the child missed the end of the melody try again and help him see where the melody ended. Continue through the piece until he can get most of the melodies right.

Once you finish, play the entire piece and have the child draw a picture of what he imagines when listening to the composition. As you continue teaching, you can begin to explore the smaller elements of the piece such as motives and how the harmony helps to affect the mood of the melody.


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