Bonding with students is essential to succeed in piano, singing, musicianship or anything really! Bond with your students using Helen’s Balloons game.
This month we launched the brand new Doremi Teach: Piano training and community. In the kick-off session I shared my “First Lesson” plan for teaching the piano to young beginners.
Our training is definitely not “procrasti-learning”. We make sure every session contains something you can put into practice immediately. As a community we support each other to meet our goals.
When I asked the group what they were going to use in the first week, the answer was BALLOONS!!
The thing is, it’s SO easy to do. It doesn’t involve any equipment, there’s no special script to memorise and yet it contains so many benefits.
“To me, the Balloons activity sums up the whole Doremi method. It ensures success. The student has such thoughtful support that they can’t damagingly fail. It incorporates purposeful interaction & learning with the world of music. And it allows students to confidently express and work with their own ideas.”Estelle – Doremi Teach: Piano Member
Benefit #1 – Bonding
Funny noises, funny faces, eye contact, sharing colour decisions and discussing balloons loved and lost. All great for bonding. Effective learning can’t take place without a healthy bond between the teacher and the student. Everything in the first lessons needs to nod to this.
Benefit #2 – Guaranteed Success
It’s so important when teaching children, and adults, that they succeed. We set the objectives and choose the activities for each lesson to ensure their confidence improves and they feel like they are making progress. This activity can be done successfully by anyone, so their very first experience is positive. Hey, doesn’t that help bonding too?
Benefit #3 – Increased Security and Reduced Anxiety
Starting every lesson with the same game is so reassuring. The student knows what to expect and they will be able to succeed at it even if they haven’t practised or remembered their books. They will feel safe with you and any anxiety about their lesson, practise or other things in their lives will reduce. Gosh, more bonding.
Benefit #4 – Reduced Stress
Anyone do yoga? There are so many benefits to stretching, not just after exercise. It increases blood flow, boosts oxygen levels, reduces stress, calms the mind and leaves you feeling invigorated. Do you need some of that? I bet you do, and so does your student. Plus those funny faces as you stretch definitely help lighten the mood and increase bonding.
Benefit #5 – Get Them Singing
In Kodály-inspired piano lessons there will be singing, for sure. Of course some children might not want to sing, but if you keep it low key and don’t make a fuss they usually join in. If they’ve already made silly sounds with their voices in a safe space then the leap to singing isn’t such a big one. They might not even notice, especially if you’re bonding.
Benefit #6 – Warming Up Their Voice
As every singing teacher will tell you, warming up the voice with voiced fricatives is really effective. Voiced fricatives are consonants such as z and zsh that impede the air flow and create a back pressure. Google SOVT exercises for more info on this. I first heard about using voiced fricatives in this way when I worked with Dr Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher of Vocal Process ten years ago. I remember visiting their beautiful home and driving back across the Welsh countryside thinking about my young musicians. The zsh sounded to me like a balloon being blown up, and that was the origin of this little game that has become so much more.
Benefit #7 – Protecting YOUR Voice
Oh my goodness, when you have back to back lessons or perhaps have some class teaching too, doesn’t your voice start to feel a bit tired? Using SOVT exercises throughout the day to rehabilitate and reset your own voice is so beneficial. It’s hard to remember, and a bit embarrassing sitting in the staffroom doing lip trills. But with Balloons you won’t forget and it will do the world of good to your own vocal folds.
Benefit #8 – Warming Up the Body
Both piano and musicianship involve the whole body, physically. Stretching our arms out and up is a great warm up for that physicality. Plus if you’ve got space you can have a little run around too!
Benefit #9 – Improvisation
The child loves choosing the colour of their balloon, and usually yours too. Contrary to popular belief, this on the spot decision making is the first step to improvisation. So the jazz riffs can go back in their box for now. Massive thanks to Dr James Cuskelly OAM who taught me the first steps to improvisation at the British Kodály Summer School in Leicester in 2015. Look out for a future blog post on introducing improvisation!
Benefit #10 – Preparing Pitch Kinaesthetically
Of course no self-respecting Kodály activity can forget to prepare a future musical element with an action or motion. In this case, stretching higher corresponds with the rise in pitch – preparing for that notation association later. Again, more on this in a future post.
So what IS this magic warm up?
“I’ve got a balloon in my pocket! It’s red! Do you have a balloon?” Teacher pulls out an imaginary balloon, making lots of eye contact to increase bonding.
“What colour is your balloon?”
“Let’s blow them up.” Holding hands in front of face, “blow” up the balloon making a zsh sound. Gradually getting higher to increase anticipation as your arms show the balloon growing until both arms are stretching horizontally.
“Grab the end.” Pretend to grab the end of the balloon and say oooo, ascending in pitch as the balloon floats high. Big stretch at the top.
Then let go and sing zzzzz, descending in pitch as the balloon deflates and whizzes round the room to the ground. If there’s room you can run around and be the balloon.
Then swap sides, the other arm stretches to the sky this time. Your student will probably want their balloon to be a different colour!
THAT’S ALL THERE IS TO IT!!