Friday, April 16, 2010

Intervals - Outdoors!

The weather was so beautiful that we just couldn't stay inside! After my students had performance class indoors on the real piano, we took the digital piano outside for some fun interval activities!

Several years ago, I drew a large piano keyboard onto a bed sheet. Today, I spread it out over the front walk. I marked off a C major scale on the sheet by placing green index cards on each note of the scale. I stood one student on C and instructed another to stand a 2nd higher, then we did the same to demonstrate a 3rd, a 4th, and so on. As we did this, we sang the intervals 1-2-1, 1-3-1, 1-4-1, etc. I'm big on singing! In order to recognize an interval aurally, students need to be able to audiate it - to hear it in their head without having it played first. Singing helps.

After reviewing the basics, we learned that intervals can have "flavors." Since this was an introduction to this concept for all of my students, I limited today's lesson to major, perfect, and minor. We placed cards on the notes of a D Major scale (one everybody knew and one which would fit on my short keyboard) and sang through the major and perfect intervals again. (Hey, intervals can use black keys!) They learned that intervals are major or perfect when they stay within the key signature of the lower note. Then, we changed the major third from D to F# to a minor one - D to F-natural. We learned that if we make a major interval a half-step smaller, it becomes minor. We did this with all of the major intervals, making major 2nds, 6ths, and 7ths minor and singing them in major and minor to show the difference. The success of this activity was heavily dependent on students' understanding of half and whole steps and their solid knowledge of at least a few key signatures and corresponding scales. We had done many, many activities with those concepts prior to today. As a younger teacher, I made the mistake of thinking I could just mention a few times what a half or whole step was and that students would remember. Some do, but I've discovered that most of them need LOTS of opportunities to apply that knowledge and reinforce their understanding before there's a foundation firm enough to build on.

Next, I had them pair off, and each group drew a card from a stack of index cards on which I had written instructions. For my two really young ones, the instructions simply gave numerical intervals - 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc. They were instructed to always make their first note C so that the intervals would all come out major or perfect. For all the others, the instructions indicated "D and up a minor 3rd," or "F and up a perfect 4th" or something similar. (No diminished or augmented intervals.) The pair had to place cards on the big keyboard to show the interval, explain their answer, and then play it on the digital piano. Everyone did very well! I had also intended to have the students place magnets on my magnetic staff board to show the intervals in notation, but we were having so much fun with the bed sheet keyboard and our singing that I forgot! I'll have to be sure and follow up next week by emphasizing intervals on the staff in our lessons. Afterwards, we did some ear-training drills. I played intervals and they called out the answers. I was impressed at how well everyone did!

We all enjoyed our outdoor interval class!


Jenny Bay said...

What a fun idea!!

Tanya said...

Laura, have you tried washing the keyboard yet? Do you have any problems with the ink running or fading?

Laura Lowe said...

I wash my sheet in cold water and haven't had any problems with the ink running. I have to confess that I haven't washed it many times over (ahem) the last decade! This is the first time I've used it outside, and it gets walked on mostly by sock feet and then folded up and put away. I'd love to be able to tell you what kind of marker I used, but I made it so long ago, I don't remember the brand. It was just one of those giant-sized permanent markers.

Jenifer Cook said...


Thank you so much for sharing this keyboard visual idea. I like how you referred to intervals having "flavors". Kids of all ages relate to that!

Anya said...

I don't really trust myself to do any 'artistic drawing' -- but I'm dying to try this keyboard! Thanks for the great idea!
- Anya at Notes of Joy

Laura Lowe said...

Anya - glad you're inspired! I'm definitely not good at drawing, but this only involved straight lines, lol! I used a yard stick to help.

Laura G said...

Really love this idea. Adding the idea of the flashcards you could turn it into a game - everyone starts on the bottom C and takes turns drawing a card. You get to move forward by that particular interval - first to the top gets a prize!