Since switching to online lessons, I will ask my students to have various household items on hand. The excitement of wondering how we will use them is usually evident the moment we start video chatting! They always hold their items up proudly, making sure I haven’t forgotten about their mystery assignment J I am married, but do not yet have kids. So play dough is not a household staple that I usually think of. But I have indeed discovered that as soon as you have kids, various colors of play dough become a necessity. Did you know they even make glitter play dough?
What started out as quest to find a variety of ways to teach music online has become a quest to find new and exciting ways to use the techniques that have already proved to work well with my students. So today I’m sharing some of the ways my studio has used play dough to bring some simple excitement to our lessons!
In my original research on how to best teach online lessons, I pulled out these ear training activities from TeachPianoToday. They were so successful with my younger students that I began imagining more ways to mix up the fun!
Smash Hit: “Line up a row of 8 small play dough balls. The teacher plays one key 8 times deciding at random when to change that key to a sharp or flat. Your student “tracks” along by pointing to one ball per key sound. As soon as your student hears the change, they smash the corresponding ball flat with their fist. For example, if you were to play C C C C C C# they would smash the 6th ball in the line. This helps with one to one correspondence, eye tracking, listening skills and learning to focus.”
Rhythmic dictation: “One of my most hated activities in university was rhythmic dictation. Snore. But doing this with play dough is super fun. The concept is simple – your piano kids listen to you play a short rhythm on the piano. They then use play dough to represent what they heard. With your beginning piano students, it’s best to start this type of ear training with having them simply be able to distinguish between short and long sounds (leave the rhythmic notation for now).
Armed with their dough, your piano kids listen one or two measures of rhythm you play on the piano. Repeat it several times. In this exercise, play dough balls represent short sounds and play dough snakes represent long sounds. Have them arrange the shapes they make on a piece of paper in the order according to what they heard. Clap the rhythm together using play dough as the visual cue saying “short short long” etc. Next, write the rhythmic notation (you’re using approximations here – stick with the rhythmic values they know) above.”
Check out the rest of their great ideas here!
Other ways I’ve been trying with my students to keep multisensory learning at a premium …
Counting: For the youngest learners. Ask the student simple questions: can you make me 5 balls? Can you make me 2 snakes? 3 cookies?
Right Hand/Left Hand: Have the student role a small play dough ball that fits into the palm of their hand. Turn your eyes away, so you don’t see what hand they place it into. Turn around and have them hold up their hands. Guess which hand has the play dough ball (make sure the ball is small enough so you can’t see it!). If you guess correctly, you get a point. If you guess incorrectly, they get a point. Whoever gets 5 points first, wins!
Finger numbers: Everyone likes cookies! Roll your play dough into several balls, and then smash them flat and round. Roll a dice and use the finger number rolled to make chocolate chips in your cookies J Don’t forget to switch between right and left hands!
Dynamics: Forte and piano. Roll 4 big balls and 4 little balls (representing big and small sounds). Play a series of notes and have the student order the balls as you play them.
Stepping and Skipping Notes: Have your students create two rainbows and two snakes with their play dough. Play two notes that are either stepping or skipping. If the notes are skipping, have the student place a rainbow in view. If they’re stepping, add a snake to their line. Once you’ve completed 4, have the student play their own stepping and skipping notes to match the pattern you’ve made.
Score search: Roll tiny play-dough balls and pick a note the student is working on. Lay their lesson book flat and put play-dough on each note that corresponds with the note you’ve chosen. If student and teacher each use a different song, you can see who wins out with the most notes in the end!
Hopefully this gives you a vision for using play dough to create simple, yet memorable lesson activities for your students!
Do you use play dough in your lessons? Do you have any other fun activities you use play dough for?