Games 4

“The ear is the avenue to the heart” Voltaire (1694 – 1778)

Aural Games – where pupils rely solely upon their ears. Written music is barred (ha ha).

Purpose – to encourage pupils to play by ear. This is a process which eventually/hopefully (delete as experience decrees) be intuitive. Thinking = hesitation = gaps in the music. Playing by ear in class only works if everyone in the group has heard the tune many times. For this reason, regular favourites include:

  • TV theme tunes
  • Christmas tunes
  • National anthems
  • Nursery rhymes

The complete tune need not be tackled – a phrase or two is often enough.

At the simplest level, playing by ear involves guessing the next note of a known, unaccompanied melody. The highest level was described to me by
Dan Haerle , an American jazz pianist and educator whom I met on a
jazz course here in 1986. His aim was “any tune, any key, any tempo.” Most of us exists somewhere on the spectrum between these two examples.

Below are some of the aural games I like to use:

  • Add the final note – I play a phrase (sentence) of a famous tune stopping on the penultimate note. The pupils, judging by the pitch of recently played notes, play what they think is the next note
  • The ever expanding phrase – this begins as a 3-note phrase. When everyone has successfully copied it, I repeat it, adding a 4th note etc. On a good day, this can get up to between 8 & 10 notes. All of this takes place in a range of notes which are very familiar to the pupils.
  • Pass the parcel – a pupil plays a short phrase. The next pupil copies. They then invent a new phrase for the next pupil – until we have gone full circle. This game gives the truly devious pupil a chance to shine.
  • Play a known tune in a different octave (same letter names – different location and fingering) – this will ideally be a tune from the beginner’s book. They will know the sound very well but not the moves. The hope is that the ear guides the hands bypassing calculation if possible.
  • Play a known tune in new key (transposing) – as above but neither the note names nor the moves match up. The ear is the only guide.
  • Join in asap – I start a famous tune in an unspecified (but easy) key. The pupils try to join as soon as they can.
  • Busking (making up as you go along) basic chords – to develop harmonic rhythm (how often chords change) and a harmonic ear. I play a tune and, at my nod, the pupils provide a chord. In the first instance, only the key chord is asked for. The sound of this has a very strong gravitational pull. A second and a third chord may be added in the event of runaway success. The idea is to strengthen the pupils’ sense of key.

Speaking of fun and games, I’m off to the Musselburgh Grammar School Summer Concert in a short while. I’ll write a little about that next week. I wanted to keep the posts on games together in the event that any colleagues decide to look them up.