Sunday, October 10, 2010

Weeks 4 & 5: Making Bow Hold Exercises Interesting

Mrs. Steininger's Class Show "Mr. Fox" Bow Hold While Holding Their Violins
How do you make bow hold exercises engaging for children so that they'll practice them on their own?  Turn them into a story!

Storytelling is a very effective teaching strategy.  I witnessed Gustavo Dudamel use storytelling to help connect members of the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela to a difficult passage that they were rehearsing in Mahler's Symphony No. 1 .  After hearing his story, the difference in their expressiveness was incredible.

The story I developed to help teach bow hold certainly is no masterpiece, but it draws attention to the important elements, especially those that students may overlook or find challenging.  

Here's the process of how our story evolved for bow hold:

Step 1:  Xia GuoHua shows me what the first step to a bow hold position looks like, emphasizing how difficult it is for kids to keep their thumb bent (see photo).  Then I imagine what it could become in a child's imagination.  I saw a fox!  Fortunately, there is an American folksong called Fox Went Out a Chilly Night that has many verses which translates into many opportunities for students to practice their bow hold position!

Step 2:  To introduce the hand position, I sing Fox Went Out a Chilly Night to the class.  Before doing so, I show them how to make a fox with their hand, specifically focusing on the position of the thumb, which now becomes the fox's jaw jutting out so that he can bring back enough kill to feed his family, "eight, nine ten."  His mouth also makes an "O" which the students will hear in the refrain of the song.

Here's the first verse:

The fox went out on a chilly night,
He prayed for the moon to give him light,
For he'd many miles to go that night,
Before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o
He'd many miles to go that night,
Before he reached the town-o.
(For the rest of the lyrics)

Each time we sang "town-o" the students opened the fox's mouth, making sure his jaw made the "O" shape.  During the song, Mr. Xia moved throughout the group using a black marker to draw a line on each child's thumb and middle finger for exact placement of the "fox's mouth."  This was their first experience with bow hold position.  Instead of making it a rote exercise with no connection, we activated their imaginations: a fox with a song to accompany him! 

Step 3:   Xia would now like them to practice placing a pencil directly on the black line of the middle finger and then move thumb off and on the pencil several times, checking to be sure that the joint is bent.  Have them do this several times!  Arghh!! How are we going to make this interesting?

Answer:  Create a commercial for Mom or Dad, which we practiced over and over again to our young musicians' delight!  Here's the script:
  • The pencil became a bone (which came from the last verse of the song - "and the little ones chewed on the bones-o."
  • The student taps the pencil or "bone" against the line on his or her middle finger 16 times (to support rote counting beyond 10 in their classroom). At that point, the bone stays glued to the middle finger and the child exclaims, "It's not nice to tease Mr. Fox.  Let him have his bone."  And then the "fox gnaws on his bone" 16 times using his thumb lifting on and off the pencil.  
  • If the thumb joint is not extended, the child points to Mr. Fox and says, "Behave, Mr. Fox" and corrects their thumb position.
  • If the thumb joint is correctly bent, the child says, "Take a bow, Mr. Fox."
Step 4:  Mr. Xia would like our kindergartners to place the remaining fingers (in a specific order) on the pencil.  Again, creating a story helped make it meaningful for kids.  I explained that once the fox had his bone he needed to head home quickly to feed the rest of his family, so ....
  1. He clamps down on the bone with his other tooth (ring finger)
  2. Then he points ahead toward the direction home  (index finger)
  3. And, he keeps one ear perked, in case the farmer follows him (pinkie on top of pencil)
Kim Poole, who volunteers in the classroom, wrote this rhyme to help the kids remember the order:

The fox taught me how to hold my bow
He clamps it in his jaw just like so

He adds another tooth so it won't be loose
My pointer goes up toward the head of the goose
My pinkie curls up to make an ear
So if the farmer's coming he can hear

Step 6:  They are ready to move on to their dowel rod bows!  (see photo below)

Other exciting news this week:  we've added fingerboards and bridges to the paper violins.  We're almost there!
Jamal proudly models his bow hold!

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