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  • Writer's pictureJenny Ferris

Giant staves for BIG music literacy results

One of my favourite teaching sequences happens when students have discovered so & mi and are ready to start writing down the notes they hear. They're ready to move beyond stick notation and using an "s for so, m for mi". They're ready for the stave.

When I was undertaking my Kodaly levels, I remember this being an area of much discussion - how can we make this less complicated? How can we make this fun?

I believe the answer lies in applying the Kodaly approach to this, just like anything else in music. Take the students away from abstract theoretical concepts and make it something real and tangible for them. The single greatest discovery I made in this endeavour was the Giant Stave set from Take Note Music

Giant Floor Stave

The kit comes with a Giant Floor Stave (pictured above) with large black discs to show correct note placement, as well as a class set of A4 laminated staves and jars of smaller plastic counters. It also contains some pitch aids such as a length of wool and a bee puppet for pitch exploration.

Even before your students are ready to place specific notes on a stave, you can introduce the concept of the stave as a musical house with different floors or stories where notes can live. Have your prep students do vocal sirens and pitch exploration following the pattern of the string laid out on a stave, or use games like "Apple, Apple" (read more about that here) but place the apples on the stave instead of in the tree.

Once they are familiar with So & Mi, introduce the stave in more detail, starting with the 5 lines in one lesson, the 4 spaces in another. There are so many games you can play with this floor stave, having students jump onto a particular line/space, throw noteheads like quoits, do line maths (a note on line 1 + a note on line 3 = line 4!) Really, the possibilities are as limitless as your imagination.

Steps & Skips

Then, once they're ready for it, introduce the notion of steps and skips. I find that this one needs a bit of practice to consolidate and for a few years I was struggling with kids getting the two terms mixed up until I realised it was because they sounded so similar, they were mixing up which one meant the furthest distance.

Once again, the answer lay in practical terms. I asked my students to stand in a line at one edge of the classroom and take 5 steps forwards. They had to stop and take stock of how far they'd gotten (we measured just to be sure!). Then I asked them to go back to the start and this time move forward by skipping 5 times. They were leaps and bounds further and for some reason this seems to have helped the terms stick for them ever since. They now understand how far a step and a skip are on the stave and have no problems plotting them.

Stave kit

I love having a "stave scavenger hunt" with my kids. They each grab a laminated stave and some counters and are given a starting spot (usually line 1). They are then given a series of instructions such as "place your next counter a skip higher" "place your next counter a step lower" and have to plot out their counters accordingly. This makes for a great quick assessment as all I have to do is snap a photo of the class and they're done!

So & Mi

Finally, once they're happy with lines & spaces, steps & skips, the kids are ready to discover that So & Mi are a skip apart and practise writing them on the stave!

Further down the track when you start introducing absolute pitch names (A, B, C etc.) then spelling words like EGG, CABBAGE etc. by jumping to the correct lines/spaces on the stave can be a great way to practise!

How would you use the giant stave kit? Comment with your suggestions below!

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