“The 4th will be with you. Always.”
Iconic Star Wars quotes add an element of humour to lesson warm-ups on fourths. Any reason is a good reason to get your piano students excited about intervals!
Children remember more of what they’re learning when they are relaxed. Creating an environment in our studios conducive to learning is part of our job as professionals.
An activity designed to be playful breaks down a child’s reservations and ‘lowers the threat.’ (Sometimes learning new things can be a little scary.) When a child is relaxed, they are open to learn. Fun is the best brain-opener. A fun lesson warm-up helps your whole lesson to be more successful.
An activity that is designed to be fun and also a challenge is perhaps the ultimate combination for helping learning stick. As teachers, it is our constant goal to lower the threat and raise the challenge.
Star Wars and May the 4th = the fun.
In pop culture, May the 4th has become known as Star Wars Day. With each new movie, the Star Wars universe keeps expanding. More characters, more plot lines, more fans, more spaceships to build with LEGO. Chances are, many of your students and their parents (and maybe even grandparents) are fans.
In May when you pull out Star Wars-themed activities that help teach and reinforce 4ths, you’ll be the coolest teacher ever! Without realizing it, your students will be exercising their ears to recognize the 4th by ear, playing technical exercises built on fourths and improving their reading of 4ths by sight. When learning is this fun, it stops being work and feels more like play.
Fourth intervals = the challenge.
Even with the most careful preparation, I have found 4th intervals to be very challenging for children. In ear training, even though Perfect 4ths can be identified when tied in with Wagner’s “Bridal March” theme, some students still confuse them with Perfect 5ths and octaves. Fourths can be some of the most challenging intervals to read fluently or identify by sight. It also takes a bit longer to develop the invervallic coordination in the fingers with 4ths. This is the perfect booster project for your whole studio, regardless of the level of your students.
Open the door with ear training
The best way to start any unit in music is by tuning up the ears. After all, music is an art of sounds. The ear training activity for week one attunes the ear to tell 2nd and 4th intervals apart (the featured intervals throughout the unit).
The explanations are kept short and sweet. Students are guided to recognize intervals by songs. The 2nd is identified with the first two notes of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’ The 4th, with ‘Bridal March.’
Because Perfect 4ths can so easily be confused with other perfect intervals, the 2nd is a great alternative choice. Some students still feel a little unsure, but the likelihood of accurate identification goes up when teaching these two intervals side-by-side. With reinforcement, this strategy builds confidence and the child’s own belief in their ability to do ear training.
For a week, I recommend planning to use this lesson opener with your whole studio at the beginning of each student’s lesson. It makes your lesson planning easy. It is a wonderful, fun introduction to intervals for your younger students and a great boost on intervals for your more experienced students.
I’ve developed three additional sheets, which are available as a ‘value bundle’ to make the unit complete with technique, sight reading and a bonus challenge. At a time of year when you are likely preparing your studio for a recital or exams, this will give you four weeks of light-hearted lesson warm-ups, and give your students a break from repertoire and a boost on music skills.
Both the free ear training sheet and the value bundle are available on my Printables page. Keep reading to find out more about the activity pages for technique, sight reading and the bonus challenge. Also, I’ve included below three Elementary-levelled repertoire picks that reinforce 2nds and 4ths. The repertoire is available as individual e-sheets on my page Sheet Music by Level or in piano collections.
Next up: technique
The next step for developing fluency with intervals is technique. This includes spacial navigation of the piano keys and physical development of intervallic predictability in the fingers.
The lesson opener for week two of the ‘May the 4th be With You’ unit is all about warming up the fingers with 2nds and 4ths. The activities are developed to be quick and effective, just enough to discover or review the two intervals in a way that will boost all of your students, in the timeframe of a quick lesson opener.
The technical exercises place 2nds and 4ths in the fingers for on-the-spot exercise loops or patterns up the piano. One exercise reminded me of the way Buzz Droids moved in Star Wars Episode III, so I named it Buzz Droid Shimmy.
Effective reading of 4ths
I have noticed that most method programs teach fourths either just before fifths or alongside fifths. The two intervals become the mysterious bigger distances on the staff. When a child is asked to read or identify them, fourths and fifths are usually cause for pause.
Instead, for the past ten years or so, I’ve been teaching fourths immediately following a review of seconds (steps). Instead of having two new intervals to learn at once, the child is strengthening an interval they’ve known for a while, the step/second, and learning only one new interval.
It is understood in educational circles that the strongest learning happens from ‘known to unknown.’ This means feeling comfortable within a pool of accumulated knowledge (the ‘known’) and then venturing from there into a new realm of knowledge (the ‘unknown’). The known provides a valuable connection to the unknown, which helps the child learn the new material with greater confidence. As teachers, the better we strengthen the known prior to teaching something new, the better the new concept will be understood and remembered.
Knowing this, it makes a lot of sense to review seconds prior to learning to read fourths. Here’s what is known about reading seconds:
- 2nds move from line to space or space to line.
- 2nds step to the very next line or space.
Here is what is learned about fourths:
- 4ths move from line to space or space to line.
- 4ths jump further.
Keep in mind that for now, it can be this simple. The only thing required from the student is to compare and contrast second and fourth intervals and be able to tell them apart.
Are you worried that the student will confuse 4ths with other intervals like 6ths and octaves? Don’t be. There will be enough time before those intervals are introduced for 4ths to sink in and become fluent. The less technical the explanation the better. For now, it is enough for a child to simply know that in notation, a fourth looks similar to a second, but jumps further on the staff. Fluent reading is primarily about prediction.
Thus, the sight reading sheet continues the theme of focussing on 2nds and 4ths and offers exercises that help build fluency. And, of course, just enough for a quick lesson opener to help boost your students’ skills.
Before I describe the bonus challenge, I thought I’d highlight some repertoire that I’ve written for the express development of 2nds and 4ths. (Remember that I’ve been teaching these two intervals side-by-side for more than a decade because this approach has been so effective with my students.) Take a listen.
Orange Sunset, Elementary
Orange Sunset is simple and expressive. The descending line sounds like the sun going down in a long, sleepy fall. The chordal part is inspired by Bartók’s ‘Evening at the Village.’ Both themes merge as the music finally tucks itself to bed. It is at Conservatory Prep B.
Jack and Jill went up the Beach, Elementary
Jack and Jill went to the Beach was inspired by traditional tune of ‘Jack and Jill went up the Hill’ and the Beach Boys. It has a beach-side groove and infectious swing rhythm. And of course, 2nd and 4th intervals perfect for boosting reading and overall technical skill. It is at Conservatory Level 1.
Sonatina was written for Elementary piano students as an introduction to the Classical style. It is elegant, has an irresistible charm, and features 2nd and 4th intervals. It is at the Preparatory A level. I’ll upload a video of a performance as soon as I can. If you want notification when this is ready, please contact me.
As I was preparing the May the 4th activity sheets, I realized that John Williams’s Star Wars Force Theme starts with the 4th interval, followed by 2nds. The bonus challenge is for students to figure out how to play it by ear, and also to try to write it down. The worksheet gets you started.
The force is strong in teachers who are brave enough to kick back a little and create a fun atmosphere that invites students to learn. Even the most professional teachers are allowed to be playful. May the 4th be with you.
Star Wars LEGO stickers complete the fun
I’ve included watermarks on my worksheets to indicate where you could add Star Wars-themed stickers. None are better than Star Wars LEGO stickers. Get them at your local book shop, or on Amazon:
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