Lesson activities

Quick Reaction games

Quick Reaction games

A signal instructs the student to change some action immediately, or on a pre-determined beat, or just as soon as possible. The signal could be a pitch, harmony, or percussive noise, or visual or tactile. It demonstrates which students have understood to some degree the material that forms the signal.

A basic game for young children involves stopping and starting on cue. This sets in motion a primary correspondence between sound versus silence and movement versus stillness. It also isolates certain elements, so the student must manage his or her own distractibility, and control his start and stop reflexes.

A simple example of this kind of work uses a vocal signal. Dalcroze called it les hop musicaux… there was “hopp,” which meant change and “heep” and “hupp,” which could mean “change back” or “go on to the next series.”

Non verbal signals

The signals don’t have to be verbal:

  • One or more students will give the cue.
  • A student who freezes in a specific posture.
  • A sign that someone holds up.
  • Turning the lights off could signal an individual posture or a group statue.
  • Different coloured fabrics could cue different rhythms (and then you could alter with the sequence).

I often use this preliminary exercise as a warm-up. Improvising music on the piano in different tempi and locomotor rhythms. I ask the children to follow. If I say “boo,” they must do that particular locomotor movement backwards. Any pupil who misses the signal will have a little surprise when he continues marching forward while everyone else is going backwards! The conditions themselves teach the student to be more conscious. I often combine this exercise with stop and start, so if I say “boo” when they are stopped they have to remember which direction they were going when the music resumes.

Sometimes say, “If I play triplets, soar in curvy lines and if I play skipping music, skip in straight lines.” This could be accomplished instead by having a student draw straight or curvy lines on the blackboard with the piano improvisation following the visual prompts. This creates an ongoing interaction between class, leader, and musical underpinnings.

Working without a piano

Frequently, I do not have access to a piano. For the music teacher who is not comfortable improvising on the piano, there are many ways to create Quick Reaction Exercises. The first question is, what musical element do you want students to understand? You can begin with opposites (high/low, loud/soft, staccato/legato, major/minor, and so on). Choose which musical variables to explore.
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