Teaching with Angry Birds

Have you ever struggled to explain a simple process to each and every student? Have you found yourself saying the same thing over and over again, and not seeing any progress? I was feeling like that when teaching basic technique to beginners, most particularly, the need to close the fingers into the palm after playing a string.

While there are different technical approaches to this act of closing, the general approach to playing is always that the fingers need to head down after playing, and not going flying up in the air. I had found myself saying “Fingers down” and “Fingers in the palm” more times than I could count. I had spent significant parts of every lesson in the early days showing and describing how the finger joints will look when playing the strings- which joint is out, which is in, which might be rounded or flat.

Sometimes it would click. Sometimes it wouldn’t. Sometimes it would click for the lesson, and then be forgotten by the next week.

I decided that I needed to find a more visual way to not just tell a student how to hold their hand and use their fingers, but to be able to show them as well. I headed to the local cheap and cheerful variety store, where all manner of interesting things could be picked up for a song.

I was initially looking for something like a pair of castanets, which the student could wrap their hand around and then simulate the closing of the fingers into the palm. I thought it might even be fun to include a bit of percussion magic in lessons! What I stumbled across that day though was even better.

Angry Birds

Round, squishy, palm sized, light up when you throw them and oh so cute Angry Birds.

I purchased a whole family of them in different colours and they immediately became an absolute, chart blowing hit. Everyone, from kids to adults, was immediately engaged with these cranky looking avarian additions to the studio. Students literally grabbed them with both hands.

It suddenly became easy to demonstrate how to hold your hand while playing. I had a bird in the hand and it was very definitely worth two in the bush. The students could easily see and replicate what I was demonstrating, and most importantly, it was fun!

To help remind everyone where ‘Angry Bird’ fingers were required in piece or study, I invested in some bright and cheerful Angry Bird stickers. Grossi suddenly became a fabulous collection of colourful stickers serving as an eye catching reminder of correct technique.

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Can’t find any Angry Birds to use in your lessons? Try looking for a soft ball or small round squishy toy. I’ve even had students use the edge of a cushion, and have found themselves curled up on the couch at night, watching TV and practicing technique.

Angry Birds have taken over my studio, and right useful little critters they are too!

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