When I introduce the xylophones to my young students we do a wide variety of activities:  we play follow-the-leader games, we listen to the differences between the metallophones, xylophones and glockenspiels, and we do echo patterns with two hands together and with glissandos.  On other days we play sound effects for stories about wind and rain, or we play notes on the special words in a song.

We also play a game called Noodle Doodle.  This is a free-choice time where they can play anything they want.  Even on the first day the students sit at the instruments they get this improvisation time.  It’s a welcome relief from the strict control found in many of the other activities.  But in the past there’s been a problem.  Some of the children would simply bang on the bars as hard and fast as they could, completely forgetting the earlier experiences of light bounces and slides.  I tried several different ways of re-directing them, but wasn’t successful until I used the word “interesting.”  The new rules of Noodle Doodle for this year are 1. to play quietly and 2. to make it interesting.  This works even better if I model beforehand what I want.  Ms. Keefe gets to play the game and they watch.  I play my xylophone with great curiosity, wanting to know what this note sounds like, or what it feels like to sweep my mallets together and apart.

With the addition of this one word, the improvisations in Noodle Doodle time have completely changed.  There is a quality of attention and focus that is quite lovely to see.  The inner expressiveness of the students is connected to their hands and to their instrument.

Interesting – it’s a powerful word.

~ Liz

The Discomfort of Creativity

I’ve been trying out some new projects with my students.  At a recent workshop I learned some great movement activities, and I’m adapting them to the needs of my classes.  The past few lessons have been a time of slight confusion as some ideas are tried and discarded, and other ideas stick. I have a clear idea of where I’m going, but I still need to work out the in-between steps to create a satisfying experience.

There is a distinct feeling of discomfort during this time because I am venturing into unknown territory and have moments of truly not knowing where I am going. No children are harmed while this is going on, surely, but I often feel awkward, and the lesson might seem disjointed or incomplete.

John Cleese (yes, the Monty Python guy) gave a succinct talk a few years back on the subject of creativity.  To my delight, he actually celebrates this messiness and discomfort as an essential part of the creative process.  He even states that the most creative people are those who can tolerate this confused state the longest.  He suggests that the person who simply grabs at the first solution to a problem, even though it ends the discomfort, will not be the most creative.

During this awkward in-between time, he urges an attitude of light-hearted play, and of non-judgment.  He advises patience.  If you stay open, he says, the answers you need will eventually come.

~ Liz

Click HERE to see the whole speech by John Cleese (about 30 minutes).

Calming the Wild Beast

The children come in the door of the music room. One child is angry at a classmate for cutting in line. Another was hurt at P.E. and has a scraped knee and a leaky bag of ice. Two girls can’t sit next to each other without constantly talking. Three children are simply exhausted from the rigors of the day, or perhaps not enough sleep the night before. It’s a normal day in the music room.

How about this… try this simple focusing message and see if all those discordant energies can be brought into alignment.

“When we’re outside, our bodies are large and moving and full of energy. Let’s bring our bodies into this room, and make them smaller and quiet. Our voices outside are loud and yelling, let’s bring them into this room, and make them smaller and quiet. Our minds outside are as big as the playground. They’ve been thinking about friends and lunch and homework. Let’s bring them into this room, and make them smaller and focused.”

These simple words might possibly transform a class of wriggly, disconnected children into a quiet and calm group of children who are all sitting on the floor, looking at you. Class can now begin.  ~ Liz