Music has a powerful effect on our brain through intellectual and emotional stimulation, but it can be an abstract subject to study. Children learn well through play and movement, and we know that adding a bit of humour while teaching a new concept enhances retention.
Over the years, I have collected and created many manipulatives to provide tangible representations of musical concepts. Some items are my own creation, but many are brilliant ideas that come from other teachers. I am standing on some pretty big shoulders in this area – international and local colleagues who freely share their best teaching ideas through online forums, blogs, workshops, conferences, or over a cup of coffee.
During the time of coronavirus, all my manipulatives had to be put away in the cupboard because I cannot sanitize them for shared use. But these are some of my students’ favourite things! What to do? The answer was to spend my summer creating a mini set of manipulatives for each student.
To stay on some sort of a budget, I made many things by hand with ordinary craft supplies. Some things I had custom printed. It took hours and hours, and it is quite possible that I ran over budget.
The results: priceless.
Now the teacher and the student have the same set of manipulatives on both sides of the camera. When a student doesn’t yet know the music vocabulary to describe something to me, they can show me. [“Mrs. P., what is this note called again?”] I can check for understanding of a musical concept by asking them to arrange their manipulatives into a pattern. [“What is the fingering pattern for this week’s scale?” “Please lay out your foam dots on the keyboard to show me.” “Oops, you have missed one important part near the top of your pattern.”] This is all contributing to my students’ musical independence. And it is another way to engage students across an online platform.
Mini Me manipulatives
- foam dots – mark landmark notes, important jumps, scale fingering groups
- foam cubes – dynamics, articulation, key signatures
- black/white music alphabet letters – spell scales and chords
- caterpillar/butterfly sheet – a reminder to students of all the musical aspects that we listen for when practising
- silver star stickers that a student may use to award themselves a “personal best” throughout the year
- Post-It flags for marking sections of music
- repertoire list, plus other useful studio handouts
- red Solo cup – play rhythm games
- Japanese puzzle eraser – practice buddy
- coloured erasable pencils – mark music scores
- kazoo – sing intervals and other aural skills
- rhythm cards cut into proportional values
- rhythm cards cut into beat values