The Cup Song - Unlocking the Magic of Chording and Rhythm Darlene Irwin April 12, 2014
Last spring, I had an interesting experience with one of my students....I'll call him Lee. He came to his lesson one afternoon and he seemed very upset. He said "My teacher at school wants me to play The Cup Song for our class". I didn't think much of it. "Ask your teacher for the music. You can bring it next week and I'll help you learn it", I said and went on with his regular lesson.
The next week, Lee came for his lesson as usual. However, when he walked in the door, I knew something was wrong. "My teacher wants me to play The Cup Song", he said again. This time, he looked visibly upset. "OK" I said, "Did she give you the music?" I asked. He looked horrified!!! "That's the problem" he said, almost in tears. "She doesn't have any music. She told me to just figure it out!". More tears!
ABOUT FACE!! I quickly abandoned what I had planned to do for that lesson.
"OK" I said. "Where can we find this Cup Song?". I had never heard of it before! "It's from a movie." he said. "It's on Youtube. We sing it at school. My teacher said to say Pepsi instead of whiskey!". I had no idea what he was talking about but I was very interested to find out!!
"Well, let's look on YouTube and we'll see what we can do!"
I searched YouTube on the iPad and quickly found the song. I played it over several times and we listened to it together. Thankfully, it was in C+!! (Yes, I thought. I don't have to transpose it!!)
I explained to him that you don't always have to have music to play a piece. What a revelation!! He looked shocked and surprised at the same time! "Wow, that's cool", he exclaimed!
We turned to the manuscript paper at the back of The Student Music Organizer and I started teaching him how to figure out a melody by ear. Then we had an impromptu lesson on how to transcribe it! I showed him how to figure out the time signature. The melody was simple enough but the rhythm was quite tricky. By the end of the lesson, we had written out the melody for the song and he had something to practice for his teacher! It had been a great lesson and Lee went home smiling!
I called his mother in the middle of the week to see how he was doing with the song! "It's all we've heard", said his Mom!! "He plays it over and over and over!".
At his next lesson, I said to him, "We figured out the melody last week and you can play that. Now let's see if we can add some chords". Again, he was intrigued. I proceeded to teach him the basic chords in C+ (I, IV, V and vi). Then I showed him how these chords can be added to the melody. I told him to listen carefully so that he could figure out which chord would work for which notes. We worked through the song and added the chord symbols over the appropriate notes. It was another great lesson and Lee went home, ready to try the next step.
When he returned the following week, he could play the whole song. He was thrilled. Best of all, his school teacher was thrilled!! He ended up playing "The Cup Song" while his whole class sang and did the rhythm with cups. Then the class performed it at the Spring Concert for the entire school! The most important thing was that Lee felt great about what he had done. He had fun playing music with his friends. He was the hero of the class. Mission accomplished!
Here are some fun ideas on teaching basic ear training in a lesson:
- Start with a familiar tune. Have the student figure out this tune by ear. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star works well.
- The student could transcribe the melody on manuscript or just learn it by ear.
- Then teach some basic chords (I, IV, V and VI).
- Have the student figure out which chords go with the melody and where they change.
- After that has been mastered, you could have them try some variations with the accompaniment.
- Try some other 2 and 3-chord melodies i.e. Amazing Grace, Happy Birthday or Silent Night.
- Have fun exploring with your students.
"The Cup Song" is also a great song for teaching rhythm. I found out that quite a few of my students knew this song AND they knew how to do the cup rhythm. I had another bright idea!!! Let's do this song for our final recital in June. The students worked well together and they came up with their own arrangement. The biggest challenge was keeping it in sync. They really had to learn to listen to each other and adjust. The above video was our final rehearsal before the recital .They did it perfectly for the concert AND Lee played it from memory! It was the highlight of the recital!!
The moral of this story: Always be ready to change a lesson plan to meet the needs of your students!
My next post will be: Can You Find the Music Hiding in the Notes?
I have just discovered a cool book which helps to teach rhythms while taking advantage of the cup "craze". It is called "Rhythm Cup Explorations" and it is published by Wendy Stevens. Her Website is called Composecreate.com. It's a reproducible resource, so you only have to buy it once for your studio!