There was a time when band and choir teachers focused their rehearsals solely on the music for the next concert. At the end of the day, the group might be able to play better, but chances were good that they really did not learn anything of any substance about music. Today teachers have moved on to include real curricular content in their classroom. In the process the large group band rehearsal has changed a bit, allowing for activities that build understanding and comprehension rather than just rote memorization of notes on a page. Games are one of many great ways to encourage and strengthen retention of key concepts. Other classrooms use games all of the time so why doesn't the band or choir?
Coming up with concepts for musical games is not difficult. The hard part is often finding a way to make them work in a setting with large numbers of students at the same time. Here are some examples of games that I have used in my elementary band classroom. If you have any of your own please add them to the comments at the bottom of the page.
Game Name: Ictus
Age Level: Any age, any ensemble
Size of Group: Any size group
This game helps teach students to keep their eyes on the conductor. At the beginning of the game all students are standing (except tubas, basson, etc. if needed). The conductor (the teacher or a student) conducts a standard conducting pattern, stopping at some random time. Students that continue to play even a split second after the conductor stops are "out" and must sit down. Depending on their ability level the students can be asked to play anything from a tuning note to a full scale to a complete piece of concert band music. The game continues until there is only one person left standing.
Game Name: Random Rhythms
Age Level: Any age, any ensemble
Size of group: Works better with less than thirty students but can be used with any size group if you have the space
I can't take credit for this game, although I would like to. I found it on the MENC web site's band director forums a few weeks back. Basically you have a set of note cards, one set for each group, and on each notecard is a rhythm fragment. When I do it I put one beat of rhythm per card. Each group gets a set of four to eight cards depending on ability level and group size. Each group has a limited amount of time to arrage the cards in random orders, learn to play the new rhythm, and then demonstrate it to the teacher. Teams get one point for each rhythm they can perform as a group. At the end of the time period the team with the most points wins.
Some things to think about on this one, I have one student in the group be a recorder who is responsible for copying down the passed rhythms on a piece of paper so that a team cannot repeat the same pattern twice. You can also use these sheets later by making copies and having students write down the counting for the rhythms that their group or other groups completed.
Anyone have any other ideas for games to use in a large group band or choir setting? If so, please post a comment using the link below this article.
Chad Criswell is a career music educator working in the Iowa public schools. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications both online and in print. He currently serves as the national music technology writer for NAfME's Teaching Music Magazine and has presented sessions at numerous music education conferences including the 2012 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic.
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