Developing Musicianship Skills Through Play
For years, I struggled with rhythm and basic musicianship skills. As a singer, I heard very early on in college from classmates that “singers are stupid,” because our musicianship skills are typically no where near as developed as our instrumentalist counterparts. Oftentimes, I found that my more successful voice colleagues who were often time whizzes when it came to aural skills (sight-singing and rhythm performances) had studied an instrument (usually piano) as a child, and had quite a bit of music theory, sight-reading, and aural skills incorporated in their instrumental lessons growing up.
The past several years I’ve sought out solutions to help bridge this gap for my voice and piano students and to make it as easy as possible for them to develop their basic musicianship. For the purpose of this article, I’ll be focusing the attention on developing skills in reading and performing rhythms through the use of blank wooden dice, a hand drum, and blank playing cards.
Turning Learning Into Play
Music lessons can often be too serious. Science tells us that we learn through playing. Why not solve two issues at the same time? This is why I keep my lessons with my students upbeat, lighthearted, and over the years I’ve created and collected an arsenal of games to play with my younger students.
The “Dice Game” was born out of necessity – I found that my young students would quickly forget concepts discussed in lessons if they weren’t practicing multiple times throughout the week. “I forgot,” or the common, “I was too busy watching YouTube videos” excuses were aplenty, and early on in my teaching career I sought out ways to keep my students engaged throughout the week. Here is just one game I’ve come up with over the past few years.
For this game, you’ll need:
You’ll first want to create a numbered dice by writing 1-6 on each side. From there, set aside six blank dice to write rhythms on based on the graphic below:
For students who are just starting out, I recommend sticking to the left column only. For students who have been in lessons for a while, or who need more of a challenge, add in the first two of the right column. For more advanced students, or when students get bored of the first six rhythms, add the remaining two. Perhaps you or your child recognize the syllables used in the game. They’re based around the Kodály system of music learning, and I’ve adjusted the spellings to be easier to sound out and enunciate quickly.
Once you’ve labeled six dice with rhythms, you’re ready to fill out the blank cards.
Each blank card should have points assigned to the card in an amount of 1-6. Some cards can have an optional “bonus” of your choosing, ranging from small rewards (if playing with Skittles or M&Ms, grant the player x-number of candies). I’m a fan of the party edition of Bananagrams where there are goofy punishment tiles to sabotage your opponents, so my students are used to seeing bonuses such as choosing an opponent to play several rounds without using their thumbs, having to stack their cards on their head, or speak with an accent the rest of the game. A while back, Kay Barker wrote about How to Make Kids Excited to Play a Song Over Using Emotion Cards, which I’ve incorporated into my own version of the game with my students! “Perform this round as if you’re angry/sad/happy!” The possibilities are endless. Once you have your cards and dice filled out, you’re ready to play!
Directions for Play:
- Each player rolls the numbered dice at the start of the game to determine who goes first based on whoever rolls the highest number. In the event of a tie, roll again!
- Playing cards are placed face-down in a pile.
- The Dice Game Rhythm Key should be printed and available for all players to see and use.
- At the beginning of each turn, players pick up one playing card, roll the numbered dice to see how many rhythm dice to roll in their turn, and then they are to perform the rhythm by saying the rhythmic syllables (Tah, Tah-Ah, Tee Tee, etc) out loud, and/or playing the rhythm on the hand drum (or on their instrument).
- Before a player performs their rhythm, turn on the metronome and set it to 60 BPM (Quarter Note = 60). For players wanting more of a challenge, set the metronome to a faster speed.
- The first player to 20 points wins the round!
Have any questions? Have a suggestion to make the game better? Let me know by leaving a comment or send over an email!
Have fun and Happy Music-Making!