Whack-It!

You should see students’ faces light up when I pull out our mini whackers and tell them that we are going to play Whack-It! at their lesson! This is by far one of the studio favorites! There are a lot of variations (several of which are included in 5 for Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson), but Alyssa and I came up with a new version that we’ve been having a blast playing the last couple of weeks.

Instead of me calling out the note name and her whacking the correct flashcard, I let her look over the cards and call out a note name, then I try to whack it before she does. We’ve done this several times now and she gets faster and faster at figuring out the note names. And of course she loves beating me to the flashcard!


Even though I don’t do a lot of summer lessons, this is such a great time to have fun focusing on mastering note names and any other theory concepts without the same pressure we often have during the year of learning and preparing repertoire for performances.

The Speedy Scale Game for Piano Students!

As I mentioned last week, I love to incorporate a variety of games to reinforce and evaluate music theory concepts with my students. This week we tried a Speedy Scale game to help students develop visual-spatial skills (they weren’t allowed to look at the piano keyboard, but had to visualize it in their mind) and put their music scale theory knowledge into practice (they’ve all been memorizing scale patterns this year to earn Mental Miles as part of our Vanishing Voices practice incentive theme)!

Daniel caught on really quickly, so I talked him into doing a step-by-step video of how to play this game during a lesson:

Here’s a snapshot of the supplies needed:

  • Two complete octaves of scale blocks (see here for a post on how to make your own scale blocks!)
  • A set of plain blocks with each one containing only one note name
  • A block with Major and Minor written on alternating sides
  • A block with a sharp, flat, and natural sign drawn on alternating sides


This is a quick, fun activity that is easily adaptable to students of all ages and levels. Since Alyssa just started lessons last fall she is just finishing up learning all of her Major pentascales. So in her case, I just had her select a block with a note name and then roll the sharp, flat, natural sign block, then arrange the scale blocks according to the pattern for the Major pentascale.


  1. After students had drawn a note name block from my hand and rolled the other two blocks, I walked them through this process for figuring out the arrangement of the scale blocks:
  2. Find the two scale blocks with the given key name (Stephanie’s was e-flat minor, so she found the two e-flats and placed them at the beginning and end).
  3. Fill in the remaining note names in alphabetical order with no regard for which ones are sharps or flats.
  4. Review the pattern for the given type of scale (we just used the Major and natural minor scales today) and write it out on the board if necessary.
  5. Begin with the “tonic” and work your way through the whole and half steps, rotating the blocks as necessary to represent the scale (a couple of times when students were tempted to switch out a block for something else – especially those pesky white key flats and sharps – it was essential that they remember they could only use the block that was next alphabetically!).

Each of the students thoroughly enjoyed this activity, and it was neat to see how much they improved just in the short 5-10 minutes we used at the beginning of the lesson!

Fun Music Note Identification Review Game

In addition to providing a source of fun during lessons, incorporating hands-on games or activities are a great way to evaluate the student’s understanding of a particular musical concept. The 5 for Fun: games and activities for the private piano lesson booklet has a bunch of tried-and-true ideas that I’ve used with my students. But I’m also always trying to come up with new ideas to help reinforce or evaluate where my students are at. 

At our first lesson back after the first of the year I decided to do a quick evaluation of how my students were doing with quick note identification and placement. Ever since my embarrassing confession two years ago and the implementation of our NoteStars challenge, I try to be proactive in making sure that my students remain quick with their visual note recognition skills.

For this simple activity I placed little markers on random piano keys and then had the student place magnets on a music staff (I just printed staff lines on a sheet of transparency paper) to correlate with the markers on the keys. If necessary, they were to draw ledger lines to ensure accurate note placement. This proved to be a quick, fun, and effective way to launch each piano lesson!

Last Day to Save 25% at Moo.com!

If you’re looking for music group class game that your students will love, Composer Trading is sure to do the job! Every time we play it, my students beg to play it again. We played it again at our group class this week and they were thrilled! You can download the free image files and instructions for the game from the Music Matters Blog store, then just upload them to Moo.com to print your own cards that are ready to go! And through the end of today you can save 25% off your whole order!

Here’s a screen shot of what it will look like on the Moo website – you’ll have one image for the front and then choose 10 of the 20 composer options for the backs of the cards in order to have a game with enough cards for up to 10 players.

You can see a post here and watch a video clip here of students playing this lively game!

[This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support of Music Matters Blog by using our affiliate links and enabling us to continue to operate the website and provide free resources!]

Free Image Files to Make Your Own Composer Trading Game

One of our favorite loud and lively games we’ve played in the studio is Composer Trading. It was one of the highlights at our September Surprise! piano lesson kickoff for the year!

If you download the free image files from the Music Matters Blog store, you can upload them to MOO.com, and from now until September 28 you can get 25% off of your entire order! I wish I had had this coupon a few weeks ago when I made and ordered the Composer Trading cards, but maybe I’ll just have to order something else to make up for it. 🙂


[Thanks for your support of Music Matters Blog by using our affiliate links. This enables us to continue to operate the website and provide free resources!]

These are a few of my favorite [teaching] things…

We are officially two weeks into piano lessons for this fall, and everyone is off to a great start with our Vanishing Voices practice incentive theme! It’s fun to watch the students study the gallery of composers on the studio wall and learn how to pronounce their names.

I attended a training seminar this weekend for homeschool parents and especially appreciated a quote by Andrew Pudewa, a Suzuki violin teacher-turned Language Arts educator. He said, “Saturate the environment with what you want the student to learn and remember.” I can certainly see the value of this advice, as students absorb so much just by seeing the same posters. We’ve already had some great conversations about various parts of the world and how they relate to the composers we’re collecting.

Now, on to the real topic of this post! I thought I would share some of my indispensable teaching tools – things I turn to over and over again to help students understand and retain various musical concepts. After working through primarily Major scales last year, I decided to launch this year with a focus on minor scales. At her lesson, Stephanie and I discussed what makes a Major scale Major and what makes a minor scale minor. Then we learned the pattern for natural minor scales, which she wrote out in her Mini Music Manual for future reference. Then we used some little place markers to construct the scale on the keyboard. And finally, she arranged a set of scale blocks to depict the correct name of each key. (Side Note: You may notice on the fallboard a set of Level 3 Sight Reading Cards from Piano Safari. These are a must-have even if you don’t use the full method because they are such a systematic and effective way of helping students build sight reading and rhythm skills!)

In addition to the scale blocks, Daniel uses a magnetic dry erase board to jot down and compare the Major and minor scale patterns. I use these handy boards all the time for quick teaching illustrations and examples.

Finally, I can’t imagine how I ever taught without a video recording device (a.k.a. smart phone) at my fingertips! It’s only her second piano lesson, but Alyssa is already learning to express creativity through composition, and enjoying the opportunity to share it with others. Thanks to inspiration from this Piano Safari video (below), Alyssa and I played the Animal Improvisation game at her first lesson and then I assigned her to make up her very own animal piece during the week. She went from reluctantly playing a single note representing an animal to creating this entire composition, which she informed me was not just about one, but two animals: a dolphin being attacked by a shark!

What fun to watch students acquire deeper musical understanding, explore creative possibilities, and develop excellent skills through their study of piano. I am reminded anew of what an awesome privilege we piano teachers have to be a part of this learning and growing process!

September Surprise Group Piano Class – by Candlelight!

The September Surprise! has become a much-anticipated tradition in our studio, but I think I can safely say that this year’s will go down in history as one of the most memorable. The students and their families arrived in the midst of an intense thunderstorm, and near the end of one of the performances a transformer blew and we concluded the evening by candlelight!

My objectives for the evening were: have fun, get to know one another better, play music for each other, and introduce this year’s practice incentive theme.

The evening began with a simple ice-breaker game. I gave each person a slip of paper and had them write one interesting (and not obvious!) thing about themselves. Then I collected all the slips and re-distributed them, and everyone was tasked with finding the person who belonged to the slip of paper they had received. Once everyone found their person, we went around the room and each person introduced the one who went with their paper and then shared the interesting thing about them.


With everyone feeling significantly more relaxed, it was time to start the surprise performances! I put each student who indicated that they had something prepared back into a basket and then let my new beginning student draw the names out to determine the order of performances. I was thoroughly impressed with the music the students prepared and played! Instead of preparing an advanced piece to play for them, I opted to play a fun assortment of Wendy’s compositions that incorporate elements of audience participation. They were quite the hit, and my boys loved accompanying me on the cajon and leading the rest of the audience in the rhythm patterns! (Btw, I’m not exaggerating when I say that they are fighting over who gets to learn Drastic Measures first. :-))


We took a short intermission to play Composer Trading – a card game I patterned after the boisterous crowd-pleasing game of Pit. The students loved it, and were begging to play another round, so I’m sure we’ll be pulling this out a lot during the year! (I had fun designing some composer MiniCards from Moo.com to correlate with the theme!)


After all the performances, it was time for the big reveal! Vanishing Voices: a musical race against time, this year’s practice incentive theme, will have students collecting miles and flying around the world as we traverse history learning about composers from every era. They are already beginning to strategize to make sure that they can collect enough composers to be part of our big end-of-the-year excursion, and I’m excited to watch them progress as musicians throughout the course of this experience.


Right in the middle of our performance of Mob Bop, the house was suddenly engulfed in darkness! Thankfully, everyone kept right on tapping and clapping their part and I improv-ed on the theme until someone grabbed their phone and provided enough light for me to finish the piece as written. While I explained the theme, my husband quickly set to work collecting oil lamps and all the candles in the house to prepare for the reception of goodies upstairs. The ambience was perfect for a time of mingling and made for a fun evening that we won’t soon forget!

The Interval Dice Game

Last week Claire made it to the Game Hut for her final stop in Jungle Expedition (our practice incentive theme this year). She had such a fun time that on her Year-End Evaluation today she suggested that we include a game at the end of each lesson to review a concept learned. This prompted me to pull out the interval dice game that has been a favorite in my studio for years (but for some reason I neglected all year long!). It’s such a simple game, but everyone loves it, and it’s a great way to reinforce any kind of intervallic movement on the piano keys (half steps, whole steps, interval distances, interval qualities, etc.).

We each selected a marker and placed it on the same starting key on the piano, then used a game spinner to signify the finish line two octaves up on the keyboard. Each turn consisted of rolling two dice (one with either “up” or “down” on each side, the other with interval distances from 2nd-7th). We moved our marker accordingly and the first one to the finish line was the winner. Claire was thrilled that she won! It’s so rewarding to watch students have a good time at the piano (and often not even realize the learning that is taking place in the process!).

One of the things I’m planning to do this summer is get back into incorporating more of the games from the 5 For Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson in each lesson again as a way of introducing or reinforcing concepts and providing some light-hearted fun in the process!

Music Note Memory Game

For this year’s Jungle Expedition studio practice incentive theme, one of the huts students can travel to is the “Game Hut.” Stephanie used her last 30 tickets to go to that hut and had fun looking through the 5 For Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson to make her choice. She opted for the Music Note Memory game, and we had a great time playing it!

   

We lined up a column of flashcards with notes on the staff and another column with marked keys on a piano keyboard.

 

We each took a turn flipping over one card from each column to try to find a match. Whoever found a match got to go again, and then whoever had the most matches at the end won! This was a great quick game to reinforce note identification skills!

Snapshots From This Week’s Group Class

In addition to performing for each other this week we practiced sharing definitions and descriptions of the musical elements of our pieces.

Composing with the fun new game Compose Yourself!

A game of notating Major and minor scales accurately by following the correct pattern. 

Major and minor scale-building game at the piano keyboard!  

We rotated pairs for each round to give everyone a chance to work with someone else and put their skills to the test!

Spin the wheel and draw a scale block, then see how quickly you can arrange the scale blocks to form the specific Major or minor scale!