Music and Movement Class Ideas

Last week, I ran group classes with my students. We explored rhythm and timing through music and movement. It required a bit more planning than usual (and a lot of energy), but based on student feedback, it was well worth it.

Music Group Class Idea #1: Teach Them to Dance

Rhythm seems to be a universal sticking point with students. I wanted to address this in a fun and unexpected way: dance.

I chose two dances that I knew my students were unfamiliar with: the Minuet and the Syrtos. The Minuet was a no brainer to me as all my students learn to play a minuet at some point in their music studies. Like many, they pause between the bar lines during the learning phase.

By teaching them the dance steps, I hoped to drive across the point that you need to feel a minuet in six counts. I also wanted my students to understand how to translate the dance step articulation to our hands at the piano.

Yes, there were some coordination issues. They were fine for the most part. Not surprisingly, the ones who have rhythm issues were the ones who had the most trouble dancing in time. They learned quickly to try and get in sync with the person beside them and did improve as the class went on.

The Syrtos was a last minute change. I originally picked a Country line dance but changed it after some students told me that they already learned the line dance at school.

This is a festive Greek chain dance. It is often done at festivals and weddings. I selected it purely because of the hybrid time signature:


Some groups could only dance as a bunch of individuals instead of forming a human chain. Others could only execute the dance steps at a slow tempo. I soon discovered that having my students face each other helped the less coordinated ones sync up with the rest of the class.

Music Group Class Idea #2: Exploring Timing Through Martial Arts

I decided to introduce three martial arts to my students in this group class: Tai Chi, Jodo and Iaido.  Nothing too in depth as my intent was to simply show them the importance of timing in a different context.

As I demonstrated, if my timing is off and I'm actually facing a real-life opponent armed with a sword or staff, I'd be gravely injured (or dead). Not to worry readers, my students tried these techniques without contact and used either wooden training swords or broomsticks.

Years ago, I explored Tai Chi. Not once, but twice. It's a lovely meditative art. Although I found it a bit too slow for my liking, I do appreciate its principles and thought it was the perfect way for my students to warm up:

We just explored the first three parts in the sequence. My students were a lot like me when I took Tai Chi for the first time: too scatterbrained and excited. I don't think they reached the point that they could feel energy flowing from their fingertips.

Next up was Jodo, the art of the short staff. My students tried the first three kihon. I even recruited one student who practises Aikido to help demonstrate one of the two-person kata.

It was a good opportunity to test how much I have learned in the past year. Last week also gave me a chance to practice being "sempai".

I introduced Iaido, my primary martial art, to my older students. While demonstrating the first kata, Ippon me Mae, they all asked questions throughout. Even though I demonstrated a set exercise based on a specific scenario, they couldn't help but ask, "What if?":  "What if the bad guy moved this way? Or what if he changed what he was doing at the last moment?"

It was the perfect opportunity to discuss practice versus performance. We practice various techniques so that our muscles remember what to do when needed (i.e., in performance). However, once you are on stage, you just have to adapt quickly and push forward when the unexpected happens. Whether it's martial arts, music or another fine art, mindful practice will help you attain a sense of mindlessness and living in the moment when on stage.

I wound up repeating the kata several times to properly demonstrate "jo ha kyu" timing. Then, I had my older students practice sword cuts. Body tension and posture was a huge theme for the evening.

One class was filled with gamers and geeks. They clicked so well that it was hard to keep them focused. They wanted to go out for pizza afterwards.

Now that is another reason I offer group classes to my students: the camaraderie. I didn't have that growing up as a "piano geek". It delights me to no end to see my students bond and build friendships. In fact, those gamers and geeks are completely stoked that I'm looking making the Zelda symphony concert as an official field trip.

One week later, my students tell me that they had a lot fun. Some of the students who have been with me for several years told me that this was their most favourite group class yet. I might have had a few worries about teaching a music and movement group class in the beginning, but it looks like I didn't have to worry at all.

Special thanks to Steinway Pianos of Calgary for putting up with us. The recital hall was the perfect size for this group class.