I sing Jolly Music songs with my students from their very first piano lesson. We start with Cobbler Cobbler, which is excellent to help them understand pulse and subsequently crotchets (quarter notes).
Working through Unit 2 – “Basic Rhythms” of Piano Adventures Primer we soon come across minims (half notes). Beforehand, earlier in the lesson or perhaps during a previous lesson, we learn the rhyme Slowly Slowly.
Slowly Slowly is a sweet two verse rhyme with a tempo change. The first verse concerns a very slow snail that slowly slowly very slowly creeps up the garden rail. The second verse is about a faster little mouse that runs around our little house!
I start by asking the children if they can think of any slow animals. We might go through a few before thinking of a snail. We make snail shapes with our hands by tucking our thumb between fingers 2 and 3. We move our hand-snail slowly up our arm as we perform the rhyme. Sometimes I make my snail go onto my face and we giggle because it’s so slimy and yukky! Next we talk about faster animals, clues are often needed for this one! We make a mouse’s nose with our fingers and make them dash about our bodies!
The challenge for these rhymes is getting a sense of proportion between the fast and the slow verses. The children think it’s really fun to perform the slow verse really slowly and then the fast verse super fast. What we want is the fast verse to be twice the tempo of the slow verse.
I also have some gorgeous finger puppets from Wise Owl Toys. The children love to use these instead of their hands. They can have one on each hand and tap the pulse of the rhyme on their knee with the correct puppet. We can tap the pulse on the piano lid, on their heads, on the floor – anywhere they like! We can use these soft toys to jump along the keys of the piano from low to high, or high to low, with the correct tempo.
One of my more creative 5 year old students spent ages making up his own games with the keys and these little puppets. He had a race from one end of the keyboard to the other! The mouse could go fast but the snail had to go slow (he was the mouse!!) He also played hide and seek with them. He “hid” one puppet on a key and I had to “find” it with the other one, again using the correct tempo. Of course the puppets are quite big so we had to pretend they were hidden. His favourite part was when I’d almost “found” him but hopped straight past using the black keys. Hilarious for a 5 year old!
Of course, don’t forget the children can be the animals themselves! Get them down from the bench and walking, crawling, running around the room. Allow them to feel the freedom to start with, but eventually the fast verse should be twice the tempo of the slow one.
How does this relate to Piano Adventures?
At some point you’ll want to drag the children back to the boring old bench and draw them a minim. Now when we explain that a minim is like the snail and the crotchet is like the mouse – they can understand that minims are slower or last longer than crotchets. In fact they last for exactly twice as long!
They draw a row of crotchets (I like Nancy Faber’s little song – It’s got a head and a stem and it’s all coloured in, that’s what makes a crotchet!) and they can tap the mouse on each crotchet. Then of course a row of minims (It’s got a head and a stem but it’s not coloured in, that’s what makes a minim!) and the snail can tap along that. We can make a pattern of crotchets and minims (ta ta ta-a or ta-a ta ta) and use both animals to tap their relevant note.
I explain that we say ta for crotchets and we say ta-a for minims. We then spend some time immersing in the terminology by banging on the piano lid. We start with crotchets. Ta ta ta ta…. On the eighth crotchet I call minims and they must start tapping minims ta-a ta-a… Four of those and we’re back to crotchets. We can do this over and over until they get bored, I’m usually the first! When I tap ta-a I usually show a little pulse on the second beat “a” with my wrist. So it looks like tap bob tap bob. We can repeat this motion then when clapping. I find some children struggle with the clapping motion but find the piano lid achievable.
So when we look at the first piece in Piano Adventures that uses minims – The I Like Song – they have a deep understanding of what a minim is! Better than just saying “Look! That counts for two!”