Tips and Tricks

Below, you will find little bits of advice written by the facilitators who ran pilot workshops in Boston organized into categories of problems that may arise during the week of Billund Builds Music. If you are having trouble thinking of enough music-related activities to fill the week, click here for project ideas and inspirations, but it is important to be creative and take risks in your lesson plan (teach like nobody’s watching!). Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page if you have any question or tips and tricks of your own.

Materials

Running out of materials was one of the main issues that we ran into during the weeklong pilot workshops. Click here to see a list of some supplies that we have found useful for building instruments.

  • Start collecting supplies early! It’s a great idea to set aside a corner or shelf in your classroom and start collecting empty bottles, cardboard boxes, and pieces of wood.
  • Hold back some supplies at the beginning of the week. In order to allow students to iterate on their instrument designs, there need to be enough supplies left for them to rebuild their instrument after they have taken time to reflect on how they could redesign it to be better. If all of the supplies are left out for the students to take during their first build, they will be gone after the first building activity.
  • Ask parents to donate supplies. Maybe it’s time to clean out the attic and there is some cool stuff that can be repurposed into musical instruments. Send a note home with your students and ask parents to send in things that are no longer being used around the house and can make noise.
  • Think ahead and order materials online from Amazon or Alibaba. If you think of some tools, materials, or demonstrations that you think you might want to use during the week to build instruments or help explain some concept about music. Some things are hard to just find lying around and repurpose, and ordering online is generally cheaper and easier than buying in stores.

Some Students Finish Working Before Others

During any of the activities that the class is doing, some students will believe that they are finished and don’t have anything else to do even though there is more time set aside to work. It is important to stress the idea that anything that they create can always be better (their instrument can play more pitches or sounds, their compositions can always be rewritten, they can always practice their performance more and make it better, etc.)

  • Have students form bands early. Once students are in groups working towards their final performance, students who are totally finished with their instrument can work on the performance (make a poster backdrop, design a light show to go with the song, make costumes for everyone, etc.) while the other students continue work on their instruments. Students of all ages have generally been able to split themselves into bands of roughly 4 people with limited involvement of the teachers.
  • Help students brainstorm ways of extending their project. Unless a student or group is very stuck and frustrated with their project and needs specific ideas on how to continue working, you can ask them leading questions or give them suggestions to help make whatever they are working on better, and allow them go through the valuable educational experience of figuring it out.
  • Allow students to give each other suggestions. It is a good idea to take a break in the middle of a building activity to have students share what they have done so far and ask their classmates for constructive feedback (suggestions and ideas that can help you improve something). You can also have an open house activity where students leave their creations around the room, and view everything their classmates made and leave post-it notes with suggestions for improvement.

Add Small Constraints or Requirements for Activities

An issue that came up in one of the weeklong workshops was that a little less than half of the students ended up making percussion instruments because I did not pose any constraints on their final instruments and drums were the easiest instrument to make. While it is important to leave the challenges open ended to let students explore whatever is most interesting to them, well crafted constraints work very well to push students to work harder and think more creatively. The specific words you say at the beginning of an activity before students start working can have a big impact on the final products that they create.

  • Tell students that instruments must to be able to play at least 3 different pitches. While it is fun to explore the different types of sounds that different materials make as in a drum set, there is a lot more valuable problem solving associated with figuring out how to modify just one aspect of a material to control the pitch that is produced when it is played.
  • Require that written compositions include dynamics and tempo. This will encourage students to think deeper about how their songs can bring out more emotion. You can stress how it is just as important to teach someone who is playing their piece how to play the notes (loud or soft, fast or slow) as teaching them what notes to play.
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