Games in sound

by Liz, Tim and Ian @HuntSchoolMusic

Imagine you are in year 7 - running around a large school site from lesson to lesson - full bag, full day, full brain. So many new things to learn, so much stuff to remember.

You arrive at your curriculum Music lesson and instead of being asked to understand new things in a familiar visual and verbal language, you are now expected to process ideas and demonstrate your understanding in sound. That's a significant mind shift.

Every last drop of the teaching time we get with KS3 students is precious. We want every moment to count, and we want to get everyone in the room thinking and responding in sound as quickly as possible.

Here are a few of the @HuntSchoolMusic  'games in sound' that we use to wake up musical brains within a few minutes of a lesson.

'Three in a Row'

This game can be played with any group. You just have to pitch it at the right level. As students start to arrive from the four corners of the school site you can start playing the game.

Version 1: You play/sing 3 pitches. e.g. C C C or C D E or C A F. You offer 2 verbal alternatives for students to respond with e.g. same or different,  rising or falling,  step or leap, conjunct or disjunct, scalic or triadic etc. Students respond with a single spoken word.

Version 2: You play/sing 3 pitches but provide a start note. Students respond by saying the letter names.

Version 3: A few students have arrived. You give one of them the role of leading the game. They pass on the role to another student after 2 or 3 questions, until everyone is settled and ready to start the lesson.

Version 4: Students play the game in pairs, taking it in turn to ask the question in sound/respond with a spoken word. The student asking the question in sound, is having not only to produce the pitches cleanly and accurately, but also think about what they need to do to elict the answer they are looking for.

'How many?'

Once again, this game can be played with any year group or experience.

Version 1: You say 'there are two number answers' and then you ask 'how many?' You play a handful of notes eg. for year 7 this might be 2, 3 or 4 notes e.g. B B B. The answer is 3 and 1  - three sounds in total, but only one pitch. You play B C D. The  answer is 3 and 3. You play B B C C. The answer is 4 and 2 etc.

Keep it simple, fast, engaging, light and start connecting it to the thing you're about to start working on in the lesson.

Version 2: Students play the game in pairs, taking it in turn to play/respond.

Version 3: You ask 'how many notes at once? This is a nice exercise when harmony is the focus of the learning that's about to take place. Here you play single notes or a combination of pitches and write a handful of possible answers on the board. Thrown in a red herring for the 'guessers'. The answers can simply be a number .... 1, 2, 3, 4 ..... but you can also use it to train ears to identify major/minor triads/ intervals/ open 5ths/ doubled 3rds/ consonance and dissonance/ dominant/ diminished/ inversions/ extensions/ Tristan/ Hitchcock - you name it.

Version 4: Students play the game in pairs, taking it in turn to play/respond.

This can move from an 'ears only' exercise, to 'ears and a visual or written response',  depending on the skill set you want to develop.

'Lightbulb on, lightbulb off'

This is a lightening fast game where students are encouraged to use their gut instinct. Use this in the middle or the end of the unit to begin with, then after a while try it either side of a half term break, to find out how much of this stuff is now running through students' bones.

Students scribble 1 to 5 on a scrap of paper or in their books if you use them. You offer 2 alternatives e.g. chord or not a chord?, major or minor, true or false. Use ticks/symbols or single letters so students' responses are no more than a scratch on the paper. Time is of the essence.

'Valid or invalid' is a good game for checking elements understanding, and uncovering and fixing misconceptions. Model it plenty of times before testing. You ask the question: 'valid or invalid?', then make a short statement that includes an element and a description e.g. 'the dynamics of the piece are major' or 'the tempo of the piece is fast' or 'the harmony at the start is syncopated' or 'the vocal melody moves by step' etc. You can do this with no sound, recorded sound, or live sound, and at any level.

'Show me, show me'

This is game where students respond in sound rather than in words. Choose a musical device that students have encountered in recent weeks and ask them to make it in sound.

Version 1: Teacher led - with list of familiar devices on the board e.g. ostinato, descending scale,  minor triad, syncopated bass line, disjunct melody.....

Students have a couple of minutes to work out their answers with a sound source. You ask a student to produce their chosen device in sound, and the rest of the class decides which device the student is illustrating. There will be many versions of the same device, so don't be afraid of repetition. Turn some of the less convincing responses into a learning point rather than a failed attempt. 'How might we alter this to make it a little clearer to the listener.' Take time to discuss it and amend the response - live in the room. Have different levels of challenge to be inclusive but also stretching.

Version 2: Student led 5 minute challenge - working in pairs, taking it in turn to play/respond. This is useful for targeted revision too.

'This one's a race'

This is more of a finisher than a starter game. In this game you ask for things to be produced in sound that students have been working on in the lesson, or that are workable-outable based on students' learning experience to date. It's a good revision game for KS4 and 5 too.

Naturally you have to be sensitive to students' mobility, and think about who you sit where, and it's nice to plan out the seating in advance to match students with similar skill sets/musical experience, so you can pitch your questions fairly.

Game: Split the group into 2 teams. Each team member has a number. Each team has a piano keyboard to play their answers on. You keep score. It's a race.  You say what you'd like to hear in sound e.g. an octave. Leave a beat for thinking time...... then say a number e.g. number 11. The two number 11 students race to their keyboard and play. You keep score and a record of student numbers spent, until all pairs have answered in sound.

Heap on the praise for surprising successes, and make light of all the failed attempts. It's just a game.

Slow it down now and again and say 'this one isn't a race - we're going for accuracy', and you ask for a longer response e.g. a chord sequence. Allow each competitor to play at their own pace, uninterupted. This is also a nice moment to use the group to moderate the outcomes and award multiple points.

Students love the varied pace of this game and the element of competition. The prize is laughter and learning. Let them shout out and help one another sometimes. In addition, you get an updated snapshot of the profile of the group - which informs your direction/triage/focus in their next lesson. Don't play this game every week. Play it once per half term at most, and avoid being predictable about when you play it in the lesson cycle.