The beginning of the year is full of introducing new things in the music room. This week my first graders are just beginning their introduction to mallet playing and barred instruments.
Before we ever touch the barred instruments I always like to have some practice with my little ones on how to hold their mallets correctly. I bought these great practice mallets from my local Orff chapter that are basically dowel rod with little pom-poms glued on the end. They make for a great practice for holding mallets correctly but also when we get to the barred instruments they are nice and quiet for those first couple times of the students are trying things out.
I have developed some fun, short activities for the students to do to find the proper way to hold their mallets. These are based on ideas I saw Lissa Ray use in a workshop for our Orff Chapter.
Bicycle, Chicken, Dinosaur:
These are the 3 “positions” I talk about in my classroom. I always want my students to be playing with their Bicycle arms, elbows slightly bent, but that’s not always how it turns out. Sometimes their elbows are bent too much, Chicken, or they even hold their arms into their belly, Dinosaur. We go through these different positions and play a fun speed game to see how each feels. That way when we are playing I can use these terms and the students know what I’m talking about. Check out my quick video to see them explained:
I think I originally saw this idea via David Row at Make Moments Matter, but I have also seen it circulating through the music world all over the place. Once my students are well versed in the different playing positions, and which ones are right and wrong, then we move onto how our hands should be holding the mallets. I don’t want to try and make them correct too many things all at once, which is why I wait until after we have our arms set to change our hands.
I talk about how the back of our hands should look like turtle shells, with the knuckles facing up to be the ridges on the shell. I have every students check to make sure their “turtles” are facing the right way and are not on their back unable to move. We also talk about how turtles have small tails, so just a little bit of the mallet should be sticking out of the end, but not a ton.
I then go through all the positions again from before, but now with the added part of checking for their turtles.
Finally, before we start exploring on our instruments, we play some partner tapping games. Each partner gets 2 mallets to start. I start by having 1 partner hold their mallets still while the other taps gently on the heads of the mallets, then they switch. Then we take it up a notch and try doing only 1 mallet at a time BUT the mallet that they are trying to tap is being moved around slowly. The students really have to work on their hand eye co-ordination for this to work. They love it!! Check out my video to see how this works.
I hope this can help some of you who are just starting to use barred instruments with your students. No matter the age level, these are great teachers or even reminders of how to use mallets when playing on the barred instruments!