Jar of Dooooom (Changing up your scale routine)

Changing up your scale routine to keep the students engaged.

Tis the season to keep things exciting so students keep making progress and having fun at the same time. This works well for all age groups, instrument combinations and class sizes.  You will find the students get quiet and focused just waiting to see who goes next and what they will have to do.

You will need:

  • A jar or small container
  • Each student’s name on a small slip of paper (I print from the attendance screen in Gradebook and cut them in strips)
  • An 8 or 10-sided paper die (Google “dice 8 sided template” or “dice 10 sided template”)
  • scale routine

Step One:

Put the slips with student names in the jar.  I usually put each name in more than once in order to prevent any student feeling like they are “safe” from being called.

Step Two:

Make a paper die with 8, 10, or more sides.  There are tons of printables if you Google dice by the number of sides you need.   Rather than using the number sides fold the numbers to the inside and put the scales names (concert pitch) on the faces of the die.  In my application, I am using the region scales we will play in the fall. 

scale routine

Step Three:

If you have extra sides, you can add a “student choice” or a “director choice” option. The students LOVE these because it ups the excitement.

scale routine

How to play:

Draw a student name.  Then toss the die to decide which scale they will be playing. (You will note the students generally hold their breath through the process.)

Rules you will need to set:

  • Range?
  • Memorized or Not?
  • What happens if students claim they don’t know the scale?
  • Is there is a prize for going above the basic level?

I am using this with my third and fourth bands as well as my beginner classes. My associate director is using it with the second band.  The rules are different based on the classes and the rewards are different since the classes are on different campuses.

In the case of my third and fourth bands, the students are allowed to play with music (for now), but it must be full range with all of the correct fingerings.  Students who play the scale flawlessly and memorized get a campus “Paws”itive referral, which allows the students to get free ice cream at lunch and be entered in a campus drawing for prizes.  If one claims they are unable to play the scale, they can meet with my associate director for some help.  However, they cannot leave my class until they play it correctly.  (Side note—No student has had to stay after class because they usually are able to play for the class in two to five minutes.)

In my beginning low brass class, the students were allowed to use music for the first week.  Now it must be memorized.  If a student plays the scale flawlessly, memorized, they will be entered in a class drawing for prizes later in the month. We are using this in conjunction with Scale Karate.  If the scale selected is one they have yet to pass, they are able to get a signature for passing that scale. 

Though, the jar has been affectionately termed “The Jar of Dooooom” (stemming back from its use during All Region music season) the students get excited to see the jar come out.  Everyone holds their breath to hear who is called and then, when they aren’t the “winner” they feverishly go back to silently working through the scales they dread most.  This will pay dividends for them in the coming days when they must play these scales for their band audition. It’s paying me dividends right now because I’m spending less time on redirecting behavior and more time having fun with scales.

Need more activities to keep students excited and engaged? Check these out…
Band Jeopardy
Performance Day

Annette Mitchell is an active educator and clinician, who also likes to dabble in music education research. She is in her 16th year of teaching middle school band all 16 years of her career have been in Low SES schools.  When she is not teaching fundamentals and encouraging students to reach beyond their own expectations, she is blessed work at her primary full-time job of being a wife and mommy to a toddler. 

Related Reading:
Reach Higher
1 Bassoon Tip to Save Your Band Hundreds of Dollars
Diagnosing Brass Tension and Helping Students Achieve a Better Sound (Also by Annette Mitchell)

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