My students love to play games in general music class. I’m guessing yours do to. Games are the epitome of making learning fun and motivating students to be engaged in the classroom activity. This is especially helpful at this time of year, when students (and teachers) are restless anticipating the beginning of the summer recess. But even now at this time of year, there should be a learning purpose behind the game–a learning objective that you are using the game to achieve.
For example, my 3rd grade classes love to play “Al Citron.” It is an object passing elimination game. Winning that game has become a coveted honor and prize in my class. One particular class is very difficult to manage, except when they are playing this game. Suddenly, they work together well, all sing well, and are all highly engaged. For them it is a game, and singing and passing the object on the beat, and not passing the object on the words “triqui, triqui, tron” are just rules of the game. But for me, it is an activity with which each student can demonstrate their ability to keep a steady beat, sing accurately, and anticipate a motive in order to alter movements at the proper time. Once a child is eliminated, I have them start to form an outer circle, clap the beat, still sing, and when there are enough children their, start a new game where there is no elimination. This keeps the eliminated children engaged and continuing to learn and practice skills and concepts, even when they are not competing for winning the game.
A popular game with kindergarteners is “Allee Galloo.” This is a short simple song that kindergarteners can easily sing. At that age, it’s important for them to sing echo and call and response songs to develop pitch and rhythm accuracy, but also to sing entire songs, even short ones like this, on their own. Playing a game to a simple song makes more repetitions possible, and adds the element of movement and creativity to an activity that would otherwise be just singing. As before, I can assess singing with others as the children sing and play the game. I also always have the option of choosing a child to sing alone without movement to give the class a momentary change of focus. The creativity comes in having the children invent different movements to perform at the end, on “weee!” Have the children move different parts of their body at a specific beat location in a song is a Dalcroze based activity. It moves where the child experiences the beat to different parts of the body. People have different preferences as to where they most like to or are able to feel a musical beat, so creating a variety of ways to respond gives students with different preferences a chance to use their preferred motion.
My sixth graders love to play Simon (not Simon says). That’s the game where there are quadrants, each a different color. When a tone is played one of the quadrants lights up. There are four tones, one for each quadrant. Students must press the colors that light up in the order they played. Each time they get it right, the sequence gets longer. While it is possible (and usual) for students to play this game by sight, repeating the color sequence without really working on musical memory, after they have played it this way for a while, I remove the visual, and give them barred instruments with just the four tones installed. When the tones are played by the game, the students then have to play the notes they heard on the xylophone. This really gets into musical memory, not just visual memory. To add an element of creativity, a student leader improvises the tone patterns instead of having the game generate them, then the players must repeat the pattern the student improvised. In this case, the leader must remember what s/he just played so it can be played again and then added to with an additional tone. The game can also be used for decoding. Students hear the tones sequence from the game or from a barred instrument, and then must sing it back using solfege. I use the online version of Simon. My class is divided into two teams, one student at a time plays on the computer which is projected on the screen. Teammates can help, which keeps them all active and engaged.
My middle schoolers love to play musical chairs. Trouble is, I haven’t found an educational reason to play this game during class, at least not the way it is usually played. But with a few tweaks, I’ve made it into something that I can use to teach musical concepts. For example, if I’m teaching meter, I will play music on the piano. As long as the meter stays the same, the class continues to walk. As soon as the meter changes they must find a seat. The odd one out is eliminated and comes over to the piano and selects the next concept to be changed. Tempo, dynamics, articulation, timbre, mode are favorite ones to use. Every now and then I slip into traditional musical chairs and stop the music.
Good teaching always has a purpose, with objectives for students to achieve, with what children are to be able to do and know clearly stated to them to that they know why they are doing what they are doing. I want my students to be able to tell an observer who asks “what are you learning today?” “We are learning how different meters feel while playing musical chairs,” or “We are leaning to generate musical ideas and remember them so we can use them again and add on to them while we are playing ‘Simon’.” If the best my students can answer is, “we are learning to sing a song” or “we are having fun playing a game,” then I have failed in either stating my objective to the class, or in planning a class around an objective, not just an activity.