How to Make the Nutcracker Cool

I’ve been on a session planning kick lately.

Even though I have almost thirteen years (!!) of session plans saved up I still love coming up with new ideas, writing new songs and thinking of more creative ways to help my clients meet their goals.

Lately, my three-year-old daughter has been on a Nutcracker kick. She’s been requesting we play the music to the ballet so she can dance in her ballerina costume. This inspired me to see how I can use the music of the Nutcracker to work on the attention and auditory perception goals I have for my school-age clients.

Coming up with the session ideas was easy. Coming up with ways to make them cool? Not quite as easy.

Here are some of the best ideas I came up with that were well received by my students:

Listening sheets:
Since my main goals are to improve attention and auditory perception skills, I thought focused listening would be a great way to start. After discussing nutcrackers and a bit about the storyline, I passed out listening sheets.

The first day we listened to: the Arabian Dance, Chinese Dance and Russian Dance. Students were instructed to answer questions about the tempo of the song, the mood of the song, and whether they liked the song. They were prompted to circle all the instruments they heard in the piece. And finally, they were prompted to draw a picture of what they thought the song was about or draw a picture of an instrument they heard. I was surprised how many students said they liked the pieces we listened to!

The second day we listened to: “March,” “Battle Between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” and “the Christmas Tree.” Since many of the students are learning about parts of speech, I provided them with different adjectives to describe the pieces and prompted them to circle the ones that fit. For example, they could indicate whether the piece slow or fast, happy or sad, exciting or unembellished, staccato or legato.

I’ll be sharing these listening sheets with my newsletter list later this week, so if you’re not already subscribed, be sure to do so now!

There are so many ways to incorporate movement in a Nutcracker-themed session plan. The ballet has pieces of varying tempo and style, each with a different feel to it. I had younger students march to the “March” and move scarves to the “Finale Waltz.” I had older students move the parachute with pre-set choreography to “The Russian Dance.” And completely unprompted, I had many students (male and female!) stand up and pretend to be ballerinas when we listened to the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

These activities were designed to work on gross and fine motor skills and give students to opportunity for creative expression.

Instrument Exploration:
Students and teachers alike were intrigued by the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. I showed them the dance on YouTube and they were captivated. Following that, I showed them a picture of a tuba and celesta and took a poll to see how many students could guess the instrument that was playing. Then we watched a video of someone playing the celesta so the students could see exactly what it looked like.

Following that, I created a sheet with the rhythm for Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and each student played it on the triangle along with the song. These activities definitely sustained their attention.

Finally, we ended with the “Nutrocker” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra (truly the best way to make the Nutcracker seem “cool” for school-age students). Since one of my main goals for the students is to work on auditory perception skills, I told them that we’d be playing air keyboard and air electric guitar as we listened to the piece. Every time they heard keyboard, they were to pretend to play air keys. Every time they heard electric guitar, they were to pretend to play guitar. Not only did they have to listen to the instrument changes in the song, but they got to rock out and really have fun with it.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many students told me they liked the music of the Nutcracker. It may not be JT or Bruno Mars, but they were open to it, and that is the most important thing!

Image courtesy of jeswin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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