Group Piano Games: Making Learning More Enjoyable
by Erin K. Bennett, NCTM
Ms. Bennett began with an introduction, reminding us of how fun group classes can be. We shouldn’t become too bogged down in logistics. She then went on to outline thirteen reasons for incorporating games into your teaching:
Why Incorporate Games?
- games hold students’ attention
- students relax and learn faster when they’re having fun
- students learn to work cooperatively
- students feel progress and a sense of accomplishment
- students are empowered to learn, rather than be taught
- students will happily repeat games
- games appeal to multiple learning approaches
- games are adaptable to different ages and different subjects
- games create a manageable sequence of skills
- memory training happens naturally through play
- games allow teachers to evaluate comprehension and track student progress
- games infuse joy into the structure of the classroom
- games are fun for teachers, too!
Ms. Bennett went on to outline two different types of games:
Teaching Games: design to instruct (new skills, drill one component of a more complex skill); and
Performance Games: design to assess (listen to and evaluate student progress, good for skills approaching level of mastery)
Specific Teaching Game Ideas
Relays – can be used for learning repertoire by having students line up behind the piano bench and take turns playing one measure at a time, while keeping the rhythm flowing seamlessly throughout the piece.
Telephone – person at the back of the line taps a rhythm pattern on the back of the person in front of them. That person then taps it on the person in front of them. Continue this pattern until it reaches the front of the line. Compare the final rhythm with the rhythm that started the game. This could also be adapted to a melodic by-ear game.
Changing Harmonies (pictured above) – one student improvises a tonal composition with a very slow harmonic rhythm. The remaining students are arranged in a line and walk around the room in one direction until they hear the harmony change; then they change directions. If a dominant 7th chord is played, the whole class freezes until a new harmony is played.
Specific Performance Game Ideas
Jeopardy – choose categories and questions related to applied keyboard theory; let each team of 3-4 students come up with their own team name. After the question is fully asked, whichever person stands first gets to represent their team at the piano (alternatively, regardless of who stands first, the team of the first one standing may select any team member to represent them). In order to most effectively demonstrate the game, Ms. Bennett had the whole audience participate in a playing of the game. Categories included: I-IV-I-V-I Progression, Harmonization, Sight-Reading, and Major Scales. (The Jeopardy PowerPoint template was downloaded from Microsoft Online for free.)
Musical Chairs – have one student begin playing their repertoire (its helpful to specify a minimum number of measures) while the others walk around the chairs/benches that have been placed around the room. The one who is without a seat is the next one to perform. In between the performances, the teacher can offer feedback/suggestions on the performance. (An audience member suggested that if a studio doesn’t have the space, you could use a set of black cards, with one red card mixed in, that the students pass around while the music plays; the one left with the red card is the next one to play.)
Scale Races – includes preliminaries, quarter-finals, semi-finals. Two students are placed at a piano/keyboard and are given a specific scale to play. The one who plays the fastest and most accurate wins and advances to the next level. Beauty and accuracy trump speed.
Rhythm Bee – students line up single file and are shown a rhythm card that they must clap and count. Could also be used for sight-reading excerpts.
Truth or Dare – especially useful in preparing for a large-scale evaluation. Truth cards would contain specific skills. Dare would contain more challenges. Broader categories could be used, such as: Truth=minor scales, two octaves, hands together, as determined by the teacher; Dare=improvisation only, or sight-reading only.
Her parting words? Be fun!