Do you have a collection of games, flashcards, and props to use during piano lessons with your students? Are they organized so you can find things when you need them?
As you probably know, your teaching resources are only as helpful as your organizational system. When things are out-of-place or impossible to find (we’ve all been there!), those items unfortunately cannot do you — or your student — any good.
The key is to have a system in place where you always know where to find and put things. As the saying goes: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” Your system needs to make sense to you, and it may be as unique as you are.
In this post, I’ll describe my method for organizing my teaching games/materials and share how you can set up a similar system if you desire. I hope you’ll gain some tips or ideas for how you can organize your favorite piano teaching resources to be readily at your fingertips!
It’s that time of year — time to pull out my Trick-or-Treat! rhythm game! During the weeks leading up to Halloween, I like to use my Trick-or-Treat rhythm game at pretty much every student’s lesson. It’s a fun way to make students “earn” their treat, and it’s such a great game for building their rhythm skills. Best of all, they LOVE this game!
I first started testing this game around this time a year ago. My students were thrilled when I pulled it out again this year!
How does the game work?
This is a fun way to spend the first few minutes of your lessons around Halloween time, to improve your students’ rhythm skills. Playfully inform your student that you have a bowl of treats — but that they must EARN their treat by playing a rhythm game. 🙂
Choose the appropriate deck for your student (Levels 1-4). Explain to your student: There are TRICK cards and there are TREAT cards. When a TREAT card is drawn, the game is over and it’s time to choose a treat. When a TRICK card is drawn, the student performs the rhythm on the card and then draws again. To begin playing, fan out the cards for the student and ask them to randomly choose a card.
Today, I want to highlight an item from my shop you might be interested in: the Ice Cream Interval game. There’s also a freebie for your young beginners below…so keep reading!
Being able to recognize the placement of and distances between notes on the staff intervallically is crucial to reading music. I like to tell my students that music reading involves more interval recognition than it does note identification. To help my students learn to identify intervals quickly upon sight, I created the Ice Cream Interval game.
The cards show intervals both on the staff lines and on the piano keys, so students are encountering situations.
This simple game works great as a single person activity. We lay out the cones on the floor, and start sorting the interval “scoops” to the appropriate cone.
Today, I’d like to share with you a game that has over the past two years become a favorite during my monthly group classes for my piano students (which we fondly call “Piano Parties”). The game is called “Tonic.”
This game is an effective way to encourage students to explore and be playful with sound. It opens doors of possibility for future improvisation and composition activities of a more structured nature. And it’s fascinating and just plain fun to hear what students come up with during the game.
On your turn, you choose a card from the deck and then improvise on your instrument music that is based on the prompt. There are many different kinds of prompts in the deck, as you can see pictured below.
My favorite cards are the “play this” cards that ask you to interpret the graphic shown on the card.
Other cards ask students to create using just one to three tones (rolling the music dice to determine which ones). Some of the cards ask students to choose a partner or two to aid them with their improvisation.
Although I believe the cards were created with advanced players in mind, I have found the game works quite well for young musicians with a few simple modifications. For example, I allow students to choose a different card if they seem stumped or overly challenged by a prompt they’ve randomly drawn. And I ask students to keep their improvisation short and sweet (30 to 60 seconds) instead of the 3 or 4 minutes some of the cards encourage.
I find that some students are naturally comfortable with improvising. Others are more hesitant. I’ve learned those students find it helpful if you begin the game by taking the first turn, providing a model.
I have a video to share of two of my students, improvising in response to the following card:
In this improvisation, I can hear both students drawing upon pieces they have learned in the past. (There’s even some “Heart and Soul” mixed in there…did you catch it??) It’s wonderful to hear students create something new using “ingredients” they’ve learned from other examples of music.
Here is the video:
Interesting in buying the game? Order it HERE. On his website, you’ll find that the game author, Scott Hughes, offers a free PDF version of Tonic that you can print out yourself. After testing out the game, be sure to purchase the real thing as shown in my pictures above. In my opinion, it’s worth every penny!
Thanks for reading my unsolicited review.
GIVEAWAY: Scott has generously offered to give away a bundle consisting of the Tonic game PLUS his more advanced Tonic Theory game! To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post before Sunday, March 25, 2018 at midnight EST, sharing either (1) your favorite improv activity for students, or (2) what you like most about the Tonic game. The winner will be randomly selected the following day. Good luck!
I just thought I’d share this idea my students and I are enjoying.
Some years back, I used to run an Etsy shop selling handcrafted items. Among the things I crafted, I used to make Christmas ornaments using Scrabble tiles. I still have a ton of tiles from games I purchased for $2 at the thrift store, now just waiting for a fun purpose.
Recently, I had the idea of putting out the tiles out in my studio. When students arrive early for their lessons or wait during a sibling’s lesson, I invite them to add a musical term or composer name to our crossword. They are loving this!
It’s fun to see how the crossword grows from week to week, and which music-related words they choose.
If you want to do this in your studio, all you need are a couple of Scrabble games (you can always sort out the tiles back out into separate games again afterwards) and some table space. I also put out a few music dictionaries, for word inspiration.
I’ll probably leave this out for a month or two, and then set it out again next year.
What other fun activity ideas have you used for your studio waiting room area?
By the way, here’s another use for Scrabble tiles in the studio:
In my game drawers, I also keep a black drawstring bag of Scrabble tiles containing only the letters of the musical alphabet. I use the tiles as a way for students to randomly choose a letter of the musical alphabet during games such as The Amazing Keyboard Race, or deciding which scale to play that day. Students can also sort the tiles onto the piano keys.
Today, I thought I’d share about a quick and fun rhythm game I’ve been using lately with some of my younger students.
Game: Which Rhythm Pattern Do You Hear?
Choose two animal erasers.
The teacher creates two rhythm patterns using these free cards, laying out each one by an animal eraser.
The teacher chants one of the two rhythm patterns and asks the student: Which animal’s rhythm pattern did you hear?
Repeat with new rhythm patterns.
If the student is ready for it, next try having the teacher and the student switch roles.
I like this activity because it keeps the focus on the SOUND of the rhythm patterns and because the only notation-related skill that is required is recognition. When switching roles, of course, the student is then required to create and perform notated rhythm patterns.
In her book, she uses black circles and white circles to represent simple rhythms in duple meter. (Duple meter is MLT’s term for when the macrobeat [big beats] contains two microbeats [little beats].)
Here is an example of Irina teaching with the black and white circles.
It’s easy to cut black and white circles out of paper, but I’ve also been using Othello chips. They are perfect for this because they are black on one side and white on the other. I found a used Othello game at a thrift shop for $2 a couple of years ago, and have been using the chips for rhythm games on the floor with my beginner students.
These chips can be used in any rhythm game where you might normally use rhythm value cards. Here are a few quick examples:
The teacher notates two simple rhythm patterns (4 macrobeats in length), chants one of the patterns, and asks the student to identify which pattern they heard.
Notate simple rhythm patterns and chant them together.
Chant simple rhythms (perhaps using simple poetry) and notate them together.
The Othello chips also work great with a cloth staff/keyboard, which means the rhythms could be notated on the staff. There are many of fun uses for these chips! Let me know in the comments below if you have other ideas.
During a recent lesson, I used my Ice Cream Interval Game — one of my favorite games for piano teaching — to reinforce and improve my student’s visual recognition of the intervals unison, second, third, fourth, and fifth in staff notation. Today, I thought I’d share a three-minute video clip of the activity.
Here is what you’ll see in the video:
0:00 When playing this game with my students, sometimes I like to hand-pick certain cards from the pile for the student to sort next, in order to build success. First, I made sure Emma could easily distinguish 2nds versus 3rds.
0:10 Then, I gave Emma a card showing a 4th on the keyboard, and then a 5th on the keyboard. After that, I start giving her 4ths and 5ths notated on the staff.
0:12 I like to ask the question: “How many notes are being skipped over?” I have found that this is a more effective strategy leading to being able to quickly recognize intervals on the staff upon sight, as opposed to allowing students to count all of the steps within an interval (for example, counting “1-2-3-4-5” for a 5th).
1:00 I point out to Emma that 5ths look like triads except that the middle note has been removed.
1:18 I encourage Emma to try to recognize the intervals on sight, instead of immediately resorting to counting the steps within the interval.
1:44 Emma enjoys taking note of which cone has the most ice cream scoops so far. Students often comment on this during the game, because it’s fun! Emma does it again at the end of the video.
2:08 Emma is beginning to recognize the various intervals upon sight, as evidenced by the increased amount of ease and decreased amount of time she uses while sorting the cards.
The Ice Cream Interval Game is available in my shop as a digital PDF download here. To read more of my thoughts regarding the important role of interval recognition during sight-reading, check out this post. Thanks for watching!
The game is simple: buy a package of plastic easter eggs and draw music symbols and terms on each half with a paint pen (permanent marker will rub off over time). Students are supposed to mix up and then match together the halves.
I did not have any plastic easter eggs in the house, so I asked my husband to buy some on clearance when he went to the grocery store. He came home with these really interesting ones from Meijer that break into three sections…!
At first, I wasn’t sure if they were going to work well for my game, but then I realized that having three separate parts for each egg could work out to my advantage. On each part of the egg, I wrote a music symbol, the meaning, and the Italian music term.
Having three parts to match into an egg makes the game more challenging. My students enjoyed working together for this game at my Piano Party.
I’m going to leave this game out in my waiting room for awhile. When students arrive, they will enjoy matching a few eggs before their lessons.