Brian Burnett is an amazing music educator. I was fortunate to have him as a movement instructor during all three levels of Orff training at the University of Kentucky. Last year, he also presented at our state convention. During his presentation on assessment, he stressed the importance of "branding" in the classroom. He explained that finding a gimmick and being consistent would improve student performance. This concept could be as simple as using a similar formatting for all your worksheets or Powerpoint slides. When students are presented information that is always organized in a similar way, they can easily digest the information visually and know what is expected with the activity. Brian also uses lots sound effects and vocal inflection similar to a car salesman. His dramatic expression grabs your attention. Key concepts and terminology are "branded" with short jingles or slogans. If they are presented consistently in this manner, the sound of the jingle will spark the memory of the student.
Over the past year, I have reflected on this advice and tried to incorporate some purposeful branding in my classroom. I often use analogies to help young students grasp an abstract concept. I soon realized that analogies are a perfect jumpstart to branding, I made some simple adjustments to the delivery of my message, making it more consistent and more dramatic.
Problem: Students are not performing rhythmically in unison.
Solution: Remind students to get rid of the popcorn.
Popcorn is delicious, but it makes a terrible steady beat! I have students visualize popcorn popping. I use descriptive language to trigger powerful senses such as taste, smell, touch, and sound. When popcorn pops, the kernels do not pop at the same time. I make a comparison to their musical performance and exaggerate a musical example where multiple people are playing before, on, and after the beat. It sounds like musical popcorn. I ask the students to get rid of the popcorn and demonstrate by becoming a rhythm robot that plays exactly on the beat. After hearing and seeing this animated analogy, the students' performance is usually flawless.
A key component of branding is that something is easily recognizable. The first time I explain the concept of rhythmic popcorn, I take my time, I use expressive language, and I make lots of individual eye contact to ensure the students are really "buying into" my product/concept. The next time I encounter this issue, the students do not need such a long explanation. Eventually, saying the single word "popcorn" should be enough to remind students to play on the beat.
I have presented this analogy of popcorn to all grade levels, kindergarten through fifth, and we always had a drastic improvement in our rhythmic accuracy. Just last week, a first grade class was reading ta and tadi rhythms on the board and I stopped them abruptly. I was about to remind them about popcorn when a girl in the front row spoke out and said "I heard popcorn!" SUCCESS! The branding works and it has created more active listeners!
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