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The Eliminator Game
By Suzanne Doane

A scale skills game for all ages; competitive and addictive. Requires no electricity, batteries, apps or devices!

Introduction

We all know that the scale is a basic component of every musician's vocabulary. Playing it with ease and familiarity is vital to being comfortable with the ensuing functions: sight reading, interval reinforcement, fragment scale runs, recognition of familiar passages, memorization, holding a part, performance and composition.

This game helps the student to become more comfortable and familiar with the individual parts of the scale, to know them better, to internalize the sounds, and to be more skilled all around. The skill (keeping track of the spaces and rests and keeping track of the silent melody) is sophisticated, advanced and an important part of developing musicianship.

The Eliminator Game

Background

The Eliminator Game requires the student to keep the big picture in mind at all times, to focus, to 'listen internally,' as well as to listen to fellow participants. It also demands a greater level of familiarity with the individual notes of the scale. Just as we don't really know the alphabet cold (e.g. does k come before or after i? I find I have only memorized it whole, for quick rhymings-off), we need to really know and be comfortable with each note of the scale.

The Eliminator Game requires the student to keep the big picture in mind at all times, to focus [and] to 'listen internally.'

This idea was developed from a vocal exercise shared at an in-service by Professor Gary Ewer. Ewer used this with high school choir students. I have expanded its application and changed it, with further contributions from my sister Melanie Doane as she 'test-drove' the game with one of her Toronto Elementary Ukulele groups over the last two years. You will discover variations that suit your group as you try this, and I would very interested to have you share them with me.

The flexibility of the game is one of the most fun things about it, from a teaching point of view. The name is the other, and if you can introduce it initially with 'The Governator' accent, go for it!! (You might also find that your class likes to play one particular variation and you may spend a long time on it before even trying another variation.)

I spend no more than 5 minutes per lesson on this game. You may vary that. Always keep in mind that the game is to increase musicianship and should apply to actual pieces that you are working on. I hope you will see growth in the practical application once you start your students thinking along these lines.

The Game

On the board or a chart you have a scale display, running vertically. You can use note names, numbers(1-8), or solfa, but NOT actual notation (see choices in Diagram 1). If you have no board you can pin up a portable chart, or have them remember in their head, which is harder and more challenging and possibly more fun. (In that case you might also use the 'hand staff' (see below) to show them which notes are being left out.)

The "hand staff"

The First Round: Play and/or sing the scale once (ascending and descending, do not repeat the top note). Play and/or sing each note four times before moving to the next note. As the teacher I keep a simple beat by snapping my fingers. Don't start too fast; around 90 bpm on the metronome is good.

I keep the beat going while I explain the second round (this maintains momentum and shows that the game is still in progress). You may wish instead to use a metronome, which is more objective and also frees you to direct the game.

Boys vs. girls is not sexist, as some may believe, but actually challenges the boys to access one of their basic learning styles.

Choose a note not the first or last at this point and mark it somehow (or say what it will be if you have no board at all). I use sticky tack or magnets on a white board, or a drawn circle with chalk or whiteboard marker, etc. beside the note to leave out. This note will now be performed in sequence, but silently (i.e. as four rests). There are always a few who forget, especially descending and that is good for the fun of the game. No consequences if it is only a few. More on that later. (A further idea is to have the chart but NOT mark it, each turn must be remembered. This is more advanced.)

The Second Round: Play scale ascending and descending, leave out the one note chosen.

The Third Round: Choose one of the variations shown below under the '21 Variations on the Eliminator Game' heading. (When first introducing the game, I would play it the same way in this Third Round for a few weeks before starting with variations. Then you know they really know it.)

Fourth Round: Move marker and leave out yet a different note. At some point leave out the first or eighth note of the scale this is tricky and students love it. It's like leaving out the main sound; they love hearing there is no resolution. It is a bit like 'sticking it to the man,' to leave that particular note out!

21 Variations on the Eliminator Game

Choose these variations to continue the challenge but keep the game fresh.

  1. The simplest is teams, one round each. Boys vs. girls, colors, rows, shoe style, birthdays, right and left stand partners, whatever works. Given the research that outlines how well boys enjoy a challenge, boys vs. girls is not sexist, as some may believe, but actually challenges the boys to access one of their basic learning styles. Girls tend to want to please the teacher so they will enjoy any kind of team activity as long as you approve of it. And that accesses one of their primary learning styles. Win-win. Another variation on teams is the lone teacher versus students, which they also love. They can have turns choosing which notes to leave out to stump you. (Make sure you've practiced a lot and are up for the challenge!!!)

    N.B. Regarding points and teams: if there are one or two people on Team 1 who forget to leave out a note, I still give the point. If the whole team flubs it, you can: a) not give the point or b) ask Team 2 if Team 1 could be given a second chance.

  2. Write a four-beat rhythm next to one scale note. When they reach this note they play that rhythm instead of the (usual) four quarter notes. When this rhythm comes up after a 'left out' note the results can be interesting!

  3. Play this rhythm (from variation 2) on every note of the scale.

  4. Move the rhythm (from variation 2) around to be played on one different note, at the same time you move the 'left-out note' marker around.

  5. Have a different rhythm for each note and change them every few rounds. Or rotate only three rhythms. I use rhythm flashcards clipped to a magnet clip. Sticky tack and chalk are also wonderful. The thing I like about magnets is that they are fast, no erasing; it keeps the pace.

  6. Instead of having a series of rests for the left-out note:
    • Tap gently on the ukulele body.
    • Tap the rhythm assigned that note space
    • Tap a completely different rhythm assigned for only the left-out notes.
    • NB: don't make it too easy. Rests are always fun for a challenge.

  7. Eliminate one more note with every round, leaving more gaps and silent rests/waiting spaces. Students will have to jump to the next notes to come in. Go right to the end of the scale (even if there is no note to be played). It is absolutely wonderful to realize they are all waiting for that last note, even though it is silent. It is real in their inner ear and this 'inner listening' is an exciting thing to observe.

  8. Sing and pick at the same time.

  9. Sing every third round. Or do a whole game just singing. (I also play this with grades 35 using the solfa handsigns in the regular classroom music program.)

  10. Strum an assigned chord in the missing note spaces. (See Diagram 2. See also Ukulele in the Classroom Book 2, Hill/Doane pg. 2 for a corresponding lesson on harmonization.)

  11. Strum the chord (assigned) that will fit with the harmonization for the omitted note. With teams, have the other team strum the chord for the left-out note. This means 'teamwork'!

  12. Play as a canon with two groups. With three groups. (Canons are better for advanced students.)

  13. Play as a canon coming in every fourth note instead of every other note, (thirds). (This is an opportunity to talk about modern compositions and composers like Steve Reich.)

  14. Play as a canon three times through. Play as a canon an unspecified number of times through until one group 'breaks down.' Then change the pattern.

  15. Try all of the above with only two beats on each note. Then one beat on each note.

  16. With 4 beats to a note; Subdivide the bar so that one team has beats 1 and 3, the other team, beats 2 and 4.

  17. Assign certain notes of the scale to be picked or sung for a particular game or round, all the while leaving out the random notes with the marker. Odds and evens is a good way to start. Then branch out to be more random.

  18. Play the game at a faster beat.

  19. Use solfa handsigns when singing. Alternate with picking, either notes or full rounds.

  20. Stop keeping the beat for students. Do count them in clearly with a full bar.
  21. Transfer the game to any other scales you are learning.

Additional Suggestions

In addition to the Eliminator Game variations oulined above, here are some additional thoughts about keeping the game engaging and to keep the game engaging and pedagogically relevant.

  1. Have the scale letter names on the other side of the vertical note chart and cover up each note with a rest card, as notes are eliminated.

  2. Have the scale notated with a proper horizontal staff to the side and as each note is left out, cover with a rest flash card, or write in a rest and take/erase the note out. Then they see what it looks like written down as they are playing/singing it.

  3. Re: Tapping or clapping the missing beat, I think this is a good start, but keep in mind you want to progress to a silent model. The idea is for students to hear it internally and wait with no one's prompting or a neighbor's tapping to cue them for the next note. Of course this whole time, the skill of keeping time is enforced.

The Key to Success

If you are not used to talking and keeping the music going, practice a bit. Invite some music friends, teachers and/or students to try the game out privately first. The key to success with the Eliminator Game is pacing: don't take time between rounds. Keep the beat going, (snapping your fingers works well) and then say right away, as soon as round is done, "Okay, that was a good round, now let's leave out [whatever note]. One, two, ready go..." and then keep them playing. Pacing is the key.

I am fascinated by all the variations of this game; I enjoy variations whenever and wherever I find them. I play and teach this game because it's really fun to play and it's a great way to 'stretch' both the brain and the ear. I hope you enjoy it!

Diagram 1: Chart for visual guide

Choose one row/style. Enlarge. (Choose whichever scale you are using.)

Scale degree
Solfa
C scale notes
D scale notes
8
doh
c
d
7
ti
b
c#
6
la
a
b
5
sol
g
a
4
fa
f
g
3
mi
e
f
2
re
d
e
1
doh
c
d

 

Diagram 2: Chords that fit with scale notes Back

See also Ukulele in the Classroom Book 2, Hill/Doane pg. 2 for a corresponding lesson on harmonization.

Scale degree
Harmony
8
I
7
V
6
IV
5
I
4
IV
3
I
2
V
1
I

 

Diagram 3: Eliminator Rhythm Suggestions (click to enlarge)

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.A member of the Halifax “A” Ukulele Group in the 1980s, Suzanne Doane performed across Canada and recorded with the group for many albums and CBC TV specials. Doane, who has also written music, plays and musicals for over thirty years, is a full-time music teacher in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

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