Today was our "I've Got the Blues" summer group class for some of my younger students. They listened to some blues songs, learned some rhythm patterns they could use to play the blues, they learned the C blues scale, and they also learned to play some rhythm instruments so we could all play together as a band. Our rhythm section included sandblocks, jingle bells (we referred to it as a tambourine today), castanets, a triangle, rhythm sticks, and maracas. Of course we used the piano too! I'll tell you about the fedoras and sunglasses in a minute...
When students first arrived, we all listened to several short clips of a variety of blues songs to get students into a "blues mood", and we did a few movement activities along with the music to help them feel the beat and prepare them for the next part of the class. Then I gave a multi-page handout to the students. One page of the handout included several rhythm examples they could choose from to help them improvise on a blues scale. Another page contained pictures of blues scales the students could play (we played the C blues scale today), and another page included information on free apps with blues jam tracks students could download and play along with at home.
We practiced some of the rhythm examples together, then we all chose different rhythm instruments on which to play the rhythms. Once the students were 100% comfortable with two of the rhythms, we divided into small groups and played them at the same time to prepare students for performing the different rhythms along with the piano. The next thing we did was take turns improvising on the C blues scale, using two or three notes at first, then more notes according to the comfort level of each student. To help the students locate the notes of the C blues scale easily, I placed little pieces of painter's tape (it was blue of course!) onto the piano keys. As each student improvised a blues melody at the piano, the other students and I each selected a rhythm instrument to play. We each chose a rhythm and all played together, taking turns at the piano until each student had a turn.
Then the fun really started! I had downloaded three free apps of jam tracks from the App Store, so I selected the C Major track from the free version of Guitar Jam Tracks, tapped "Play", and we all jammed together with the track. Each student spent a little more than one minute at the piano, and I played Jennifer Eklund's "Bluesy Tuesday"(which was the perfect piece for today, our very own bluesy Tuesday!) as a closer to our blues performance along with the track. Then we donned fedoras and sunglasses, which I found at Dollar Tree for $1 each, and we were ready to go! We jammed a little longer so the students could get more comfortable with the idea of improvising in front of one another, while wearing dark sunglasses, and so they could get used to switching places quickly when their turn at the piano was over.
Then we waited until their parents/grandparents came to pick them up. Once their adults arrived, I filled them in on what we had done during class, and we performed our song "Rainy Day Blues", so named because it had been rainy all day! One of the parents asked us what the name of our band was, so we decided on "The Rainy Day Blues Band". Meet our band in the picture below!
A couple of my high school students will be taking a blues class later this summer, and for them, I plan to incorporate something similar to these blues improv sheets from pianimation.com.
I've included the handout from today's class as a free download. Click here for a copy of "I've Got the Blues!" and here for a copy of the page/sign I created for my laptop.
If you use these blues sheets with your students, please let me know. I'd love to hear how it goes! If you know of someone who would enjoy this idea, use the sharing buttons on the left or pin the image below to let them know about it.