As the school year winds down, you might be looking ahead to summer activities that will motivate and excite your students. Maybe you'll just be seeing your students for a handful of lessons, or maybe you'll be teaching the whole summer and just want some interesting ideas to spice up those summer lessons!
Either way, today I am sharing 5 fun, creative projects you can use this summer that are perfect for students of all ages! Keep reading for more...
I love working on composition all year long, but especially during our more laid-back summer lessons! Composition is a great way to get students reviewing music theory they have learned during the year, notating on the staff, and even using simple notation software.
It is also easy to break up composition projects into bite-sized pieces that you can work on over a period of several weeks, even if your lessons are spread out over the summer. For example:
- Week 1: improvise and sketch out melodic and harmonic ideas.
- Week 2: start notating final melodic and harmonic choices on staff paper.
- Week 3: finish notating on-staff and add dynamics, articulations, and tempo markings.
- Week 4: transfer the composition to notation software to create a polished final piece.
Here are links to handy resources you can use for your summer composition projects:
- Composition worksheets arranged in order of difficulty can be found on my Free Stuff page HERE (scroll down to "Improv, Composition, and Theory Worksheets").
- This article breaks down the pros and cons of several of the most popular notation software products on the market and gives you tips on how to use them with your students.
2. Create an arrangement from a lead sheet.
Lead sheets are a great way to help students review chords and to introduce them to the process of creating their own arrangements. Even beginners can be successful playing simple lead sheets with open fifth or blocked chord accompaniment. And, of course, the sky's the limit when working with more advanced students, as you can cover more complicated chord structures, left hand accompaniment patterns, embellishing the melody line, creating original intros and endings, and much more!
Here are links to a few resources you can use for working with lead sheets:
- Links to free lead sheets for Happy Birthday, Simple Gifts, and several familiar Christmas tunes (Christmas in July, anyone?).
- Musicnotes is my "go-to" site for inexpensive lead sheets of copyrighted songs.
- A handy chord chart for beginners can be found HERE.
- A chart of common left hand accompaniment patterns can be found HERE.
3. Learn a piece by ear.
Summer is a great time to take students through the process of learning a piece by ear. This is another project that can be broken down over several weeks. For example:
- Week 1: listen to the piece, and determine the form and tonal center/key signature together.
- Week 2: choose one section and work out the melody by ear.
- Week 3: determine the chord progression for the section you chose. Many pop songs use the I, IV, V, and vi chords, so determining those chords in the key you are in is a great place to start!
- Week 4: take the melody and harmony you discovered for your section and work on playing them together. Experiment with using blocked or broken chords, using different inversions of chords, adding the pedal, etc.
Here are a few links to resources you can use to help guide your students through the process of playing by ear:
- I wrote a 4-part series on the process of helping students play melodies by ear and some of the very first tunes I like to use with my beginning students: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
- Several more melodic ear training resources can be found HERE.
- This article gives tips on helping students learn how to harmonize their melodies by ear.
- Here is an article about the first few pop and rock songs I like to teach by ear.
4. Study a musical time period or composer.
How about using summer lessons to take a deeper dive on a specific time period or composer? This is a great opportunity for students to explore a composer that they really enjoyed studying during the school year. Or, maybe this could be an opportunity to introduce your students to someone brand-new!
Here are resources for learning about music history and composers:
- Check out my round-ups of resources for teaching students about each period of musical history (including links to composer biographies, listening activities, and free sheet music) HERE.
- Check out the "Living Composer Project" that I did with my students back in 2019. This project includes a set of worksheets you can use with your students to help them explore the music of their favorite living composers.
5. Create a repertoire playlist.
Finally, this is a fun project you can do with your students that encourages them to review and perform their very favorite pieces from the past year!
This project is very flexible! For example, you can:
- Prepare a repertoire recital by having students choose the music, design and create a program, and invite a few family members to attend a special performance during their lesson time (either live or via Zoom).
- Record a series of videos that you can upload to YouTube to be shared with family and friends. This blog post walks you through the steps you can use to create an unlisted (viewable only by family and friends) YouTube playlist.
- Record audio recordings to create an "album" and have students create cover art to accompany each of their favorite pieces.
Check out these handy summer repertoire lists to help your students organize their favorite pieces.
What do you think? Do you incorporate any special activities during summer lessons? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments!