Julie Davis, Education Intern at Chicago Opera Theater & Violinist, substituting for Iris Wei
Last Thursday, December 2nd, was my third visit with the violin group class at Reilly, but the first time as the only teacher present in the room. I was excited to see how the students' had matured and what new skills they learned.
Seeing that they had just began to learn music notation, I put 8 measures of music on the board, using letter names instead of a full staff. The song went something like this: A A | A A | D D | D D | A A | A A | D D | D D | . As they also wrote this in their own notebooks, I explained the concepts of measure, bar lines, and 'the beat.' Then we sang this song several times, first all together, than the girls sang A and boys D, etc. We then assigned dance motions to each letter, as A was hands in the air and D was touching the floor. I like this exercise because young students can really feel the beat and hear the difference between high and low. Then we discussed how we could play this piece on the violin, as the violin has both A and D strings.
Then, I introduced a small composition exercise. I erased all the notes and left the bar lines. Reviewing the strings of the violin, I asked students to raise their hands and give suggest notes (E, A, D, G) to fill the 8 measure song. Then we sang the song (although our pitches were not accurate) with specific body motions for each letter. I introduced the concept of composition, and told them that they had all been composers that day. This new vocab word was recorded in their journals.
After this exercise, we unpacked the violins, and reviewed correct playing position. Next we played the song Ants, a simple song of just open strings. I asked students to write in their notebooks how this song would be written using bar lines and letter names. We then drew this together on the board and played it once more. To conclude the lesson, I rewrote the first song we worked/sang and we practiced playing this with our violins. Some students really got the concept of pizzing different strings for different notes, but I think others had a hard time physically understanding how plucking the strings to the left are lower in pitch.
My biggest surprise upon returning the the classes was the difference between the first group (3rd graders) and the second (I believe 4th grade?). The first group was really into the singing/dancing activity. They were laughing and suggesting goofy dance moves. The second class however was more reluctant to try the activity. They were also more inclined to goof off. I made a rule that if someone's back turned away from me, they lost their violins and had to sit quietly. I was very firm, calling individuals out and asking them why they would misbehave the one day a week they had to learn violin. I think because this class was after school, and they had they day off the next day, that they were naturally a little more rowdy.
Also, I realized how hard and time consuming it is to tune all those violins! If I sub again, I think I'd try to tune the violins before the class begins to save time.
I had a lot of fun at Reilly because the kids are naturally eager to learn and excited to play!