Who knew that so many useful teaching devices are available for cheap at the grocery, beauty shop, party supply, hardware or crafts store?
With a little imagination, you can turn all kinds of things into teaching props, said William Wassum at a lecture called "Fun Pedagogical Props from Your Local Shopping Mart for the String Classroom" at the 2015 ASTA conference. Wassum teaches at Thornburg Middle School in Virginia.
Students often understand simple explanations or demonstrations, but not always. When the situation calls for a little more imagination to get the point across, "sometimes a prop is a useful thing," Wassum said.
For the class at ASTA, he had filled bags with goodies culled from places like the Dollar Store, Oriental Trading Company and a beauty supply store: rubber balls, dice, plastic eggs, chop sticks, toy cars, silly putty, finger puppets, pens, rubber bands, stickers, yo-yos, Lifesaver candies, egg cartons, corn pads, toothpick umbrellas, plastic animals and much more.
For example, with a little imagination, a rubber bouncy-ball becomes a major pedagogical tool. You can use it to explain the feel of the finger motion in vibrato by placing it under the left fingertip and rolling it on the fingerbard:
And here are more props and their uses: Use cards and dice to count repetitions. Roll a tiny toy car up and down the fingerboard, again for vibrato motion. A student can squeeze a Nerf ball to strengthen fingers. Fill plastic eggs with dry beans and use them as shakers, also for practicing vibrato wrist motion. (I have another use for plastic eggs: split them in half and place halves on tips of bows for doing balance exercises like "Up Like a Rocket.")
To practice bow control, a student can thread the bow through a game ring or canning ring, without letting the bow touch the sides. Place finger puppets on the tip of the bow; "I tell them to play as if there was a lion (or a zebra) at the end of your bow!" Wassum said.
Wrap a rubber band around the frog to either hold fingers down or to provide a tackier surface on which to place the pinkie. To keep students from back-swinging their bow arms, hook an over-sized rubber band around the scroll, then hook the other end around the frog, so that when they bow, it pulls their arm forward.
Corn pads can be stuck to the bow to show a student where certain fingers go. File folders make excellent and portable foot charts for young beginners. Flip an egg carton upside-down, have the student hold it like a violin, and then the student can "bow" through the grooves to get that straight-bow feel (perhaps with the bow hair-side up, though!).
Stick a straw into the violin's f-hole to keep the bow from sliding out too far on the fingerboard. In fact, you can stick the other end into the other f-hole, to create an improvised Bow Right device.
Sometimes a prop helps the imagination even more than it directly helps the arm or finger or wrist. For example, if you give a student a chopstick and tell him or her to pretend it's a wand and to cast a spell, the student will likely perform a certain kind of wrist action, simply because he or she was imagining a wand.
Here was a fun explanation along those lines: We all know that to play a harmonic, just touch the string very lightly. In fact, a teacher might tell a student to touch it as lightly as a feather. But did you know that you can actually make a harmonic sound, using a feather? That is exactly what Wassum did, simply holding the feather exactly where you would hold your finger for a harmonic. It worked!
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