A good friend of mine has called me a synthesizer. Not a keyboard with buttons, bells and whistles but a person who gathers information and ideas and blends them into a new concoction that suits the flavor or need of the day. That happened last week while holding my annual Piano Olympics camp as I was in search of some activities to create three 2-hour days that coupled fun with learning.
My biggest concern was my level of motivation this late in the summer as the past two months were jam-packed. I was part of the planing team and a presenter at Southern Methodist Institute for Piano Teachers Conference (SMU-IPT) and held 88 Creative Keys camps (88CKC) in Ohio and Denver with Bradley Sowash. What I discovered was that all of these events provided more than enough material for a camp and things fell into place easily. While shopping for the mandatory camp snacks, I stumbled across shelves full of summer items deeply discounted which made for some extra special parting gifts for the campers. Note to self: always check the seasonal aisles at the end of the season!
A group of five charming girls were enrolled in the camp and knowing their current level of study and interest I knew I needed to include the following:
- A Craft. A favorite activity of the girls, the teacher in me believes that a craft can only be included IF it has academic merit with reinforcement value.
- A Theme. It’s always easier to plan around a subject. As I wanted my campers to play by ear I decided they would learn “Don’t Eat Green Bugs” by Bradley Sowash–a tune we often teach by ear at 88 CKC and found in his book “That’s Jazz” book 3.
- A Lead Sheet. Especially during the summer all my students, regardless of lesson format, develop skills reading from a lead sheet.
- A Groove. Some have it and some don’t. This group of girls showed signs of a steady pulse but were all in need of a booster shot in rhythmic understanding and flow.
- A Snack. With heavy-duty learning and activities, come hearty appetites. It’s important to keep the stomachs happy so the brains keep working.
- A Grasp. Knowing chords is essential for lead sheet prep which meant scales and diatonic chords needed review on AND off the bench.
- A Good Time. This is one loyal group of girls and they expect the best when they signed up for Ms Leila’s Piano Olympics. I was not about to disappoint them.
Perhaps not all the “hows” will be included below but the materials used and a little of the thought process behind my muse for this event are listed. Watch the video at the end for some terrific visuals of the fun.
My trip to Ohio led to numerous encounters with bugs. I won’t forget the enormous spider I witnessed and the nickel-sized, neon green fire flies were equally stunning. Bradley’s catchy tune “Don’t Eat Green Bugs” was ideal for learning by ear and seemed to fit my summer experiences so I decided to build the camp around that song; the reason for the excessive bugginess seen in photos, camp attire, the recurrence of green AND the glow-in-the-dark fun featured in the video.
Drum Sticks. A huge shout-out and thank you goes to Vickie S from Tennessee. I credit her with the idea of making steel brush drum sticks. With the help of an incredibly generous and enthusiastic florist, some floral wire, floral sticks and colorful duct tape served up a pleasing craft. The campers assembled steel brushes that work just about as well as the real things
–Drum. As we are huge mixed-nut fans at our house, it was easy to collect enough empty plastic jars to create drums. Some splashy cut outs, plenty of duct tape and packing tape sufficed to make home-made djembes for use with the steel brushes.
–Folder Cover. There’s always some paper work involved with camp so I purchased green folders and campers were assigned to draw their favorite bug on the cover.
Obviously, I was immersed in Bradley’s pedagogy for the summer and in particular, his approach to teaching lead sheets in groups. Thus, my campers were asked to learn the bass line (chord roots) the LH chords (with inversions and 7ths), the melody and fill notes. The 5th camper played her finely crafted drum with steel brushes using Bradley’s magic phrase “cheese doctor.” We played the tune enough times so that each could rotate between the 5 roles.
The campers proudly and immediately took to their new, hand-crafted instrument and mastered the Sowash “cheese doctor” rhythm as seen in the video.
Wendy Steven’s Rhythm Cup Explorations were used to build rhythmic security each day. After mastering a number of her exercises and being inspired by videos featuring rhythm cups, the girls were encouraged to create a cup rhythm of their own to accompany their singing of “Don’t Eat Green Bugs.” In adherence to Bradley’s instructions to clap or “cup” on beats 2 and 4, the singers became hyper sensitive to each beat of the measure and choreographed a dynamite cup routine for the bug song.
The campers rotated between various learning centers featuring vitamin bottle lids, Kreative Keyboard fabric keyboards, Bag of Blocks, an iPad white board app and more. Indoor and outdoor games with these manipulatives helped them nail down scales, diatonic chords and inversions and internalize these essential concepts back on the bench.
With a green bug theme, I went straight to Pinterest for help and as expected, I found some terrific snack ideas. Strolling through the grocery store and looking for green food, I discovered mint Oreos, green grapes, green apples, Lucky Charms, gummy worms and green sherbet. The green freezer mugs found on clearance were an unexpected hit when they magically turned lemonade into a slushy. Talk about extra points for the piano teacher!
That’s enough chatter, now take a look at the video. Really, it couldn’t have been more fun AND the bonus–the campers took home new music skills, a green mug, a green folder, a drum, two steel brushes AND a groove, all at Piano Olympics 2014.