Yesterday, guest author Chris Bernotas talked about how to get the most from your method book. Choosing the right resource, understanding it, and making it a part of your ensemble goes a long way. Making that method the focal point of your lesson plan, however, can be more difficult.
It’s easy to simply choose the next exercise in the book and make it the introduction to tomorrow’s rehearsal. Instead, make your method book a more integral part of your lesson planning process. Your method book doesn’t have to be a fallback; it can be your primary means of achieving learning objectives and engaging students.
Here are three ways to tie your method book to your lesson planning. In each case, the method book serves as a bridge to other, more traditional sources of lesson planning activities.
1. Connect Your Method Book to State Standards
Lesson planning often revolves around standards. That’s a good thing, but standards aren’t always crafted with method books in mind (or vice versa). It’s worth taking the time to go through your copy of the method book with state standards up on your computer screen and mark which standards apply to each exercise or arrangement.
Having connections between your method book and standards close at hand works both ways. When you need a new activity for a particular standard, you can flip through the method book and voilà, you’ll have the perfect exercise for students ready to go.
Conversely, when you want to work a particular method book selection into the lesson plan (perhaps you know this arrangement of “Frère Jacques” is always popular with beginners), you’ll be able to justify teaching it with a standards-based objective.
Connecting standards directly to your method book can also help clarify for parents and administrators why using methods is such a critical part of instrumental music class. Since parents and administrators are almost always the ones providing these books for your students, showing them the educational value is important.
2. Connect Your Method Book to Concert Literature
This one is so obvious many directors do it without thinking. As students learn new music notation symbols, they need exercises that reinforce the concept and examples of ensemble literature that expose students to that notation “in the wild.” This is true for everything from a new pitch with a tricky fingering to complex formal notation.
Executing this can take some planning ahead. Choosing concert literature that conforms to the exercises in your method book isn’t fun for you and isn’t fun for your students. Picking repertoire that way severely limits your ability to engage students and may stop you from programming topical, fun, or historically important pieces. Instead, after your choose literature for your concert, take a look at your method book. Find the exercises that help introduce students to the trickiest parts of the repertoire. You might consider examples with compound time, syncopation, the high register, etc. These exercises then become a natural transition into the concert literature.
3. Connect Your Method Book to Home Practice
Practicing a piece of concert literature at home can be difficult for students because they aren’t able to hear the surrounding musical context. Especially for beginners, assigning method book materials as home practice can be a more effective way to track student progress.
Whether you’re using an online option to track student practice or good old fashioned practice logs, using exercises keeps students focused on the fundamentals and gives them a more iterative, achievable goal. “Play this piece” is more daunting than “play exercise #40.” You can also offer bonus exercises for extra credit or to differentiate your homework assignments.
Many method books also include at least a few duets. Making these a part of home practice serves as a form of flipping the classroom by getting students to work on basic ensemble skills (intonation, etc.) as part of their home practice routine. This “flipping” is your connection to the lesson plan. The method book duet becomes a focus for the following class. Ask your students “how was playing a duet like playing in class?” to help them think critically about ensemble playing.
To help you with all things lesson planning, we built an editable template especially for music teachers. We hope it helps you smoothly incorporate your method book into your plans this year. You can download the template for free here:
Do you already use your method book in your lesson planning? Let us know how you do it on Facebook.