Scenario: very first days of instruction, students barely know how to hold their instruments

How can we be musical and creative?!?

Printable Handout

Open case & set up instrument (rock stops, endpins, shoulder rests)

  • Create a rhythm pattern with part of your case. Students can share & echo back.

  • “Rainstorm” on instruments. Rubbing back of instrument, tapping fingers on back, plucking strings, patting/knocking on wood. Have students figure out other new sounds that would fit.


  • Use flashcards to indicate what string is being tuned and what rhythm pattern is being played (as many beats as you want). Have a drum beat loop playing. Students play rhythm until you switch to new flashcards.

  • Incorporate concepts of tempo, dynamics, and phrasing. No music is too simple to ignore expressive elements (even a tuning note!).

  • Have a conversation with students. Teacher plays a rhythm on an open string and student “answers” on same open string but with his/her own rhythm. (Also works really well when students know fingered notes.) Can also use with peer call & response, student plays open string for peers.

  • As students advance, peers can tune less-confident peers. And/or you can incorporate students indicating pitch direction in these activities.

Posture & instrument to body (including guitar position)

  • Open string bass lines (teacher or advanced students can play melody while others play a bass line on open strings).

  • In small groups come up with a simple story (can be one you already know) and give it a soundtrack. Sounds need to come from your instrument but can be made any way you want. (Or teacher can prescribe story or even provide silent movie.)

  • Listen to a piece of relatively simple music, where melody & rhythms are identifiable. Each student identifies a rhythm. A few can play their rhythm anywhere on instrument and class echoes.

  • Teacher plays simple song in key of G, D, or A. At the end of each phrase, the teacher pauses and the students pluck (or bow, when ready) the tonic open string.

Hand to instrument & fingers to strings

  • Melodic patterns/songs to learn initial notes

  • “Free” improvisation around a certain word (e.g. night, coffee, winter, playground)

  • Elbow harps/ski jumps as a round

Hand to bow & simple detaché

  • Part of group create simple song – part of group play harmony with bow (don’t worry if harmony is “right”)

  • Play “handbell style.” Teach only 1 note to each student (multiple students can have the same note). Play a song where each student only gets to play his/her one note when it occurs. Then have students trade notes (teach a friend). Then students could create their own piece using only the few notes they’ve been assigned.

  • Listen to a piece of music and have students figure out a harmony/bass line that fits.

  • Use collection of mi-re-do songs so they can be transposed between strings. This will greatly help the bass players in addition to aural skills for all instruments.