Yet another reason why I love Musical Futures International (MFI) – they get a whole class playing along. It’s a perfect example of differentiation. 

Let me just start off by saying I fully believe in playing several instruments. As international school teachers, we expect our students to speak a minimum of two languages, but we know students who speak three or four quite well. Why not with instruments?

MFI has a ‘Just Play’ system in which students in a class rotate through instruments on the exact same song. Let’s say you have a class of 24 students and your instruments are voice, chair drums (more on that in another post!), ukulele, keyboards (more on that in another post!), bass, and guitars. You are going to have four students on each section. The experienced guitarists will simply be given chords; beginners will have sponges placed in their lowest three strings and will play with simplified fingerings. The keyboardists (and note, these are kids who may not know how to play piano!) will be given crib sheets that show root position chords. On the screen, they’ll see an animated lead sheet. As the students are learning the piece (discussing its structure, use of chords, improvising solos, etc.), the teacher keeps swapping groups.  “Everybody move to the group beside them and play those instruments!” This gives the kids a foundation on all the instruments found in the room, improves their listening skills because they always have to be focusing on the chord changes on their new instrument, and keeps them from getting complacent (“Sorry. I only play bass.”)

Here’s an explanation of how it works:

Why is this so helpful to the IB specifically? Well, at NIS, music is an elective. I have some, but not a lot, of choice in students. For example, if I get 10 drummers in one semester, the school takes pity on me and does some swaps. Otherwise, I get whomever I get.  When it comes to the creative cycle, it’s sometimes hard to put together balanced groups because we don’t want to end up with a pro group and then two groups with absolute beginners who can’t play anything! Also, that’s not really ‘student voice and choice,’ which is a strategy statement at my school.  Now imagine a class in which every single child has experience on voice, keyboard, ukulele, bass, drums and guitar. In this scenario, the kids have much more freedom in choosing their own groups and repertoire. Before, teachers might have said, “Well, that group has three guitarists, so I have to give you a pianist.”  However, now there’s much more flexibility. Now the question might simply be, “Will Bobby be on-task if he’s working with Mike?” The question of feasibility in groupings has been solved.

I’ve been working on making my own “Just Play” videos, which you can check out here.