In my work as a singing teacher, I am often discouraged to observe how young children are when they learn to be self-conscious about their artistic endeavors. Perhaps the pressure to be “normal” impacts our younger students as much as it impacts our teens.
In this context, teachers of art, music and drama have the opportunity to intervene in childrens’ lives at a point when they are still open to the idea of creative exploration. Through the application of regular challenges, calling children to exercise creative invention, teachers may even be able to minimize the loss of joy in artistic experimentation.
Given the limited amount of time and resources afforded to the arts, finding tools to help teachers integrate these skills into a cohesive curriculum can be difficult. I was impressed with Together We Can Improvise, Vol 1: Three Units Based on Stories and Themes for Teachers K-3 and Teaching Artists (Book & CD) in terms of its ability to support children in learning improvisational concepts in an organic, interdisciplinary way.
Designed for children in grades K-3, Together We Can Improvise is divided into three units, each including a variety of “warm up” choices and a set of “core activities.” Within each unit are opportunities to apply the content to instrumental, dramatic and vocal contexts. One of the unique strengths of this book is this integration between artistic forms, which allows students to experience the interrelatedness between them. In addition, the progression of units from concrete to abstract guides students from basic ways of envisioning improvisation toward more complex expressions.
The first unit, “Tortoise and the Hare,” focuses on the use of improvisation to tell a scene-based story and teaches control of fast and slow. The second unit, “The Coqui,” is organized around learning the call of a Puerto Rican species of frog. In this unit, students are encouraged to consider how to improvise animal sounds and movements with instruments and voice. The final unit, “Environments,” includes improvisation involving visualization of foreign or alien territories and the accompanying sounds and movements that might occur there.
Together We Can Improvise comes with a CD of tracks for the teacher and students to use with the exercises. Some of the tracks are vaguely reminiscent of Rhiannon’s Flight: Rhiannon’s Interactive Guide to Vocal Improvisation. Taking Flight/Soaring, which I have used many times with my adult students. They are generally high quality, though I feel some of the singers should have warmed up better prior to recording. Their resonance becomes thin at times, which is important given that children are actively collecting auditory voice models in this period of their lives.
I recommend Together We Can Improvise to classroom teachers or private studio teachers who want to help young students learn to improvise with confidence.