Black History Month in the Piano Studio!

Charlie Parker Book

I LOVE February because of Valentine’s Day and Black History Month! There are so many great activities for music learning that can be used with these themes as a backdrop. So, with Valentine’s Day behind us today’s focus is a simple and fun music lesson with a nod to Black History Month.

In this lesson, the student will learn how to play a jazz tune about legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker using the 5-finger scale. It is designed for 3-6 year olds.

You will need a copy of the board book Charlie Parker Played BeBop and a recording of the song by Louise Rogers.

Away from the piano, play the recording of the song while reading the book with the student. Feel free to dance around, snap fingers and tap toes. Encourage your student to sing along with the call and response in the song.

Now, announce to your student that they are ready to play this song on the piano! If the student already knows some or all of the 5-finger scales have him/her play one for you. (The recording uses the Bb scale). Even if the student has not learned any scales, you can still use this activity to teach them the scale.

Your student will play the chant “Charlie Parker played BeBop” which occurs again and again in the song.

Here are the notes: C D E F G E

Once you have done this a couple of times, you are ready to play along with the book. Allow the student to turn the page and play at the appropriate time. You can even do this as a duet since it is in call and response style. Be sure they sing along!

Afterwards you can ask a couple of review questions –

“Who was Charlie Parker?” Ans. Charlie Parker played bebop.

“What instrument did Charlie Parker play?” Ans. Charlie Parker played alto saxophone.

Update on Scale Links Project

This spring my students are concentrating on learning and perfecting the major scales and pentascales. The younger students are working to learn all 12 pentascales and the older students are tackling the major scales. Their goal is to not only be able to play them fluently but to know the note names for each scale. Each time a student successfully learns a scale they add a link to their scale chain as shown above. So far, two students are tied for first place with 5 scales!

The biggest challenge so far has been helping students understand that they cannot earn a link on the same day they are introduced to the scale. They have a hard time understanding that just because they can play through the scale does not mean they know it! So, each week at the beginning of the lesson they have to play the scales they already earned links for in addition to any new scale they practiced during the week. This is helping them to realize that they have to stay on top of those scales!

What do you do to encourage students to become fluent in playing scales? Tell us in a comment below!

Learning Scales and Understanding Songs

Here’s a quick way to help students understand where scales end and how LOTS (most?) of the songs they are learning move:

You wake up in the morning at home and you go to various places throughout the day, but you don’t move in with somebody else at the end of the day – you go back home!

Musical translation #1- when playing your scales you will end on the same note you started with.

Musical translation #2 – Songs often end on their key note. For example if a song is in the key of G Major its last note is typically G.

Visual Motivation For Learning Scales

Scales Links

Do you remember learning scales as a piano student? Well I do, and there was nothing exciting about it. As a student I couldn’t see how learning scales would improve my playing or what in the world they had to do with playing songs. Of course that way of thinking is exactly why it is so important to have a piano teacher! Piano teachers know that learning scales improves technical facility at the keyboard and understanding of how music works, how songs are built, and provides us with a wealth of tools for improvisation.

What piano teachers sometimes don’t know is how to make the process fun and interesting for students. So today I’m sharing a tool from my piano teacher bag of magic – Scale Links. Each time a student masters a particular scale, he or she gets to write out the notes of that scale on a colored strip of paper. Then the student glues the ends of the paper together to form a loop. As more scales are learned more loops are added and linked together. The scale links are hung up in the studio so that students get a visual picture of their progress. They also get to see how quickly other students are progressing which of course leads to more practice!