A Year of MMG: Getting Started

The first time I saw Music Mind Games being taught was in one of Michiko's group classes.  I marveled at the way the children interacted with each other, sharing materials, teaching each other and generally having a great time playing together.

For many reasons, however, such a scenario is not possible for all of us.  I teach out of my living room, where the rug seats only 3 or 4 people.  My students come from all different directions and distances, and most have so many other commitments that I've never been able to successfully "sell" the group lesson concept.

So, how do I use Music Mind Games?  As part of my private lessons.  At the end of each 30- or 45-minute lesson, I take a few minutes to play a game with my students.  If they've brought friends or siblings, they're invited to play too (I've gotten lots of new students this way!)  The focus, of course, is on the student, making sure he gets a good balance of review, new material and plain old fun.

For years, I simply grabbed something from my stack and went to town, not worrying about how long it had been since my students had seen it.  This is a great way to start, but over time I found there were certain things I gravitated toward, resulting in an unbalanced repertoire of games and a learning plateau for my brightest students.

Several years ago, I hit on the idea of focusing on one set of materials per month.  This corresponds roughly to the Puppy Packet of materials, though there are a couple of sets from previous incarnations of Music Mind Games.  There are nine months in the school year (my lessons are more relaxed during the summer,) so here's how I divided them:

  1. Alphabet Cards

  2. Blue Jello Cards

  3. Staff Slates & Grand Staff Cards

  4. Tempo Cards

  5. Music Symbol Cards

  6. Notes & Rests Cards

  7. Rhythm Playing Cards

  8. Staff Slates & Do-Re-Mi Cards

  9. Real Rhythm Cards

The order isn't necessarily important, though I do feel pretty strongly about the first three -- they're very accessible for new students and loads of fun to review.

Last spring, Michiko was asking me about how I used her materials in my studio.  When I explained, she suggested spending two weeks on each set rather than one month.  This would ensure that each student saw each set of materials several times over the course of a year.  I've tried that this year, and it's worked even better!

In the next few posts, I'll write about what I do with each set of materials.  One more very important thing first, though: I strongly recommend each student have his or her own Puppy Packet.  Here's why:

  • People value something more highly if it belongs to them.  For a student, that means "it's mine!"  For a parent, it means, "I paid for it!" This accomplishes both; the student will enjoy showing it off, while the parent will want to see it used often.

  • There is an incredible sense of wonder and excitement that's created when someone opens a package for the first time.  They want to take their time unwrapping it and examine every little piece.  The Puppy Packet is wonderfully designed for maximum enjoyment in that respect -- colorful Magic Notes, Plastic bands, cards and a see-through box are enticing and mesmerizing to children.  And, in my experience, to teenagers and adults too!

  • As a teacher, you'll get more bang for your buck: by assigning "homework" (which should really be renamed "homefun" in this case) you can ensure the students are getting more exposure and practice than the few minutes you're spending with them each week.  Think of your lesson as the teaser trailer for the feature film -- the fun they'll have exploring the games at home.

How you do it is up to you: you can include the cost in the tuition of lessons or ask parents to purchase on their own.  Just be sure each student can claim ownership of her own little box of magic.  You will be so glad you did!