Playing with Legos: My approach to teaching the major scale pattern

I've recently been using a technique for teaching whole steps and half-steps with my students that I feel has been pretty effective, and I wanted to share what I do.  I mention this to my violin students after they have been playing for a little while.  I have students start with a simple tetrachord pattern (what I call the mini scale) on just one string, and from there we progress to a D major scale on the D and A strings.  When they are starting to play on more than their D and A string, I introduce them to the fact that they can do a bigger scale on their whole instrument.  At this point, I mention half steps and whole steps.

I start by having students listen to the difference between half-steps and whole steps.  I currently have a piano in my teaching studio, and so I'll play them the a half-step lower down on the piano, and tell them how it is like the "Jaws" theme.
I then show them the contrasting sound of a whole step and mention how in music we have patterns of whole steps and half steps.
I then point out how their fingers are not spaced evenly when they are playing, and that this is because of the half step and whole step pattern.

At this point, I pull out some specific legos I have set up for this demonstration and a violin finger pattern chart in a plastic sleeve.  The legos I use are two "prongs" (not sure what you call them) wide on all of them, mainly for ease of grabbing.  There are four legos that are four prongs long of one specific color (I use blue), and a fifth the same size of a different color (yellow) which are our whole steps.  There are also two of another contrasting color that are two prongs long (I use green for these).

We grab the legos and I tell them that we build a scale with 2 tetrachords, and that a tetrachord is four notes, which is like the mine scale that we started with.  Our major scale tetrachord is W W H, or-with my legos-blue blue green.  Because the legos are different colors, it will help students visually remember the contrasts a little better between the distances and likewise the pattern.

The next tetrachord is the same exact one, W W H.  However, to make it so we've got 8 notes in our scale, we have to add an extra whole step in the middle, so our patter becomes:  W W H (W) W W H. This is where I introduce my yellow lego for the middle whole step.

I have found this way of teaching the major scale pattern is extremely effective for several reasons:

1)  Students have a visual reference which they can come back to when trying to rebuild a major scale pattern.  The different colors help form this visual image.

2)  Legos are something the student can relate to on a daily basis as most students have legos in their home, and the next time they build something with legos are related building toys, they might remember our whole step half step demonstration.

3)  Legos are very tactile, and so students can grab them and build the pattern using them, helping to reinforce the pattern even further in their memory.

4)  Using this technique, we have chunked the scale and students have to remember, not 7 different things in sequence, but three things:  the first tetrachord, the fact that we double that, and the whole step in the middle.  Because there are only three facts to remember, students are more easily able to retain these facts in memory.

It is at this point we pull out our violin finger pattern chart.  I didn't plan it this way, but it works perfectly for this:  The whole and half step legos are the same size as our whole step and half steps on the chart, so that we can lay the legos down and build a scale.  We start with the D major scale and get to see how the finger pattern we use follows our major scale pattern.

We then start on a G major scale.  The finger pattern remains the same, until we have to do the second octave.  Students can then see why they have to use a low 2nd finger on the top octave.  I use a protective plastic sheet over the chart so we can mark it up with a dry erase marker, and they can see all of the places that the fingers need to go.  We can the erase the pattern and do other patterns also.

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