Everybody is very excited about Star Wars! You can use this excitement while designing beginning orchestra games. These Star War games and activities will help your students learn while having lots of fun. They can be used for beginning string or orchestra classes as well as modified for Suzuki group classes. The team building activities you will read about can also be used in any classroom. I use these ideas mostly with my beginning classes. However, these will work for beginning orchestra and band students. I have modified the same ideas for Suzuki violin classes easily.
After reading the orchestra tips below, feel free to visit my Orchestra Teaching Tips page for other articles on different topics.
One of the main goals for every music director is to teach the students to watch and follow the baton. When working with beginning students that doesn’t always come easy. In my orchestra classroom I use lots of orchestra games and activities for students to watch so that they are prepared when they get to play in more advanced orchestras. So the first activity we will look at has to do with watching the baton.
Conducting Activities for Beginning Orchestra Students
Introducing the baton!
Call me crazy, but at the middle school level I teach, I use all I can to keep my students engaged and having fun! It is in the process of having fun where discipline issues fade away and students are learning the most.
The ability to watch the conductor and learning the conducting patterns are two important concepts young students need to develop. Learning the conducting patterns takes place only after the students get to repeat them and practice them consistently. Only then they will remember them. If you add some fun to their activities the effect will be fantastic!
In my beginning orchestra classes, I start my brand new students playing my instrument and modeling for them. Slowly about one or two months into the first semester I start introducing the baton. The concept of watching the conductor can be difficult at first. Beginners have so much to think about – posture, intonation, notes. This is why I do fun conductor games to get students engaged in the new concept. Instead of a baton I have a funny toy I use and they get to watch it. This makes it VERY easy for them to watch the conductor while they are having fun with it.
This year and the new Star Wars opening – I thought there is a perfect opportunity to use Star Wars manipulative for beginning students conducting games! For the extra twist-all you will need is the Lightsaber! I got mine from Amazon. It cost me a few bucks but it was well worth it!
The orchestra game: One day as the students are learning about conducting, instead of baton, I will show up to class with the Star Wars baton. I conduct the class with it. If a student does not watch me during conducting, then they get a gentle tap with it on the shoulder. Their goals is to get zero taps for the class period. All of my orchestra students have gotten a good kick and a great class after this! They all watch the conductor tentatively as they are having fun! Win-win for all!
Learning the conducting patterns: After playing the game above, ask the students to conduct themselves with the lightsaber in order to learn the conducting patterns. Usually, I would first demonstrate one pattern at a time to the students. Then I would ask volunteers to come up in front of the class and “conduct” the class. At this point the piece hey are conduct can be as easy as Twinkle.
Outcome: My young kids LOVE LOVE LOVE these games! They cannot get enough of them. We want other students to have just as much fun as we are having in the classroom!
Sith Vs Jedi Game
You can use this game to teach any musical or technical concept the students need practice on. In my classes my beginners focus a lot on posture. So many of my games have to do with posture. However, in a few weeks we will be preparing for a music festival. I may use this game to simply make sure all students have learned the notes in their festival pieces.
The game: I am Seth and the students are the Jedi. Their job is to fight the bad guys-intonation, posture, etc. I play a selection of their musical pieces or I demonstrate a technical concept. The students need to determine if I did something wrong. Then they need to do it the correct way. They can play individually, in sections, or the whole class. We keep points on the board. The end result of the game is for the students to get more points and win over Darth Vader (me).
I do this mostly with my beginning classes. With students up to 6th grade (both Suzuki or regular strings classroom) it would work wonderfully. I may use it sparingly with older students when we need a lighter r fun day. They might get a kick of it too as we all need a lighter approach from time to time.
In a school setting teaching many kids at the same time, I need to get as much help as I can. The best help in my classroom has come from the students themselves. The kids who do not have the family support at home get plenty of support through the orchestra system. I use lots of activities to have students work with each other and help each other learn. This closes the parent-teacher-student triangle.
The Jedi academy is a fun way to do more team activities, but can also be an assessment and/or planning a small unit around it. You can create a rubric (if assessing students is what you need), or write the three Jedi categories on the board as the picture above.
What are my students expected to do to progress through the categories?
Jedi Padewan– if the student does not know the notes of a piece.
Jedi-the student has learned the notes but there is more attention needed on a certain aspect (intonation, techniques, etc.)
Master Jedi-the student has mastered both notes and the technical elements behind them.
There are so many different ways you can apply this to your classroom. Here are two examples:
One or two day activity:
Play a game of fitting each student into the category they belong. On the next day, the Master Jedi need to work in small groups with the other ones teaching them the skills needed to become a master.
In my beginning classroom, I like focusing on one technical aspect and an excerpt from a piece per week. Isolating smaller details is more effective especially when working with beginners and developing posture and techniques. I have been lucky to have a classroom with students who have consistently done well with posture and set up. I feel one of the reasons is separating the class into groups and proving these opportunities to work on something very specific. So you can use the same game concept for a short unit study on perfecting a certain musical piece or a technique.
One week unit:
On Monday I introduce a new technical concept. It could be brand new to the kids or something that I feel they need to come back to and practice more. Let’s say in this case that concept low 2nd finger and the students need to practice it on a specific passage of a piece.
Tuesday-the students have to present the mastery for the class. I draw the simple chart on the board. The students can play individually for the class or in small groups (depending on the class itself, size and their comfort level). We determine which category the students fit into. This activity also serves as their pre-test activity (or determining who needs the most work).
Wednesday– the apprentice students work with the Jedi. Jedi have to teach them the notes. The Jedi can also come and play for me in order to receive a Master Jedi title. At this point I am quite strict with the students who want to receive the Master Title-they need to demonstrate all technical elements studied perfectly!
Thursday-All Master Jedi need to work with the rest of the students ensuring that they have learned the technical element.
Friday– we all play and assess our progress.We could do a performing quiz on the same piece/technical mastery with grades. Or we can do it in a supportive way, celebrating our progress!
Star Wars Practice Chart
Here is a fun practice chart that you can use for 100 Twinkles or for anything else the students are working on. You can assign it to students right around now during Holiday real. Or you can assign it to students as the school year starts and as a class project to get them back into practicing. The best part? It is free! Grab it here: Star Wars Practice Free Chart
Star Wars Suzuki Review and Practice Cards
My students have had so much fun with these extra practice materials. They are super fun cards where Yoda tells the kids which song to review on a given day for a two week challenge. Super creative! Your students will love it. This can be a great materials for you to use in a classroom situation too. Have student shuffle and pick randon cards and play whatever card gets picked. You can also assign to a student as a two week practice at home challenge. Find it here: Star Wars Two Week Review Challenge
Many Suzuki teachers use review cards, where the students draws a card and they get to play the song on the card. Many parents also use it as effective home review practice. Here is a Star Wars twist: Star Wars Suzuki Review Cards Books 1&2
I will be adding more activities as I am applying them in my classrooms and they have proved successful. Check back this posts from time to time!