Free Downloadable Rhythm Cards and Game Idea

One of my studio go-to’s for an easy, educational game for group classes is Team Rhythm Dictation.

The students are split into two teams and are given a set of individual rhythmic note cards to use. (Click here to download a free set of individual note cards to use in your studio.) The barlines are made from some scraps of black foam board.

I indicate what the time signature is and then play a two-measure rhythm pattern on the piano. The students are encouraged to tap and count along, then see if they can place the correct note cards to replicate the rhythm that I played. Typically, I will play the rhythm 3-4 times, but after several patterns, the students were catching on quickly and often getting the dictation after only one or two plays!

Pianissimo Courses Offers Teach Preschool Music Course!

One of the best things I ever did in my studio was implement monthly group classes that are open to all students in addition to their regular lesson for that week. These monthly gatherings have done wonders to build camaraderie in my studio and give students myriad experiences to help build their confidence as performers. Piano camps each summer have further contributed to these benefits, and I’ve tossed around the idea of offering more classes on a regular basis throughout the year. So I was thrilled when a former colleague contacted me to let me know about the launch of her Teach Preschool Music course!

Megan Desmarais has been teaching preschool music classes in her studio for many years and has done an awesome job putting together a comprehensive and professional course that walks other music teachers through the process of setting up a similar program in their own studios. She sent me a free course enrollment so that I could look over and review the course and I am SO impressed!

Seven modules plus a bonus material section include everything from helping you establish goals before you start the course, to how to handle logistics, to a whole year’s worth of lesson plans (wow!), to clear explanations of what the class should look like, to troubleshooting tips, to making a business plan, to many additional resources, and more. This course is well worth the regular $247 price tag, but from now until this Friday, October 6, you can sign up as a charter student for only $187! I am so excited to work my way through this course because I love teaching young beginning students anyway, and I can see how there would be so many benefits (both musically and financially) to being able to offer well-structured and planned preschool classes in addition to regular lessons. Thanks, Megan, for making this fabulous resource available to us!


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And We’re Off…with the September Surprise!

As has been our tradition for many years, we launched our new year of piano lessons last weekend with the September Surprise!

Each returning student had a piece ready to perform for the rest of us we played a fun rhythm get-to-know-you game (in keeping with our rhythm theme for the year!), and we had the much-anticipated revealing of this year’s practice incentive theme: Beat the Pirates!

In between each of the student performances I played select folk tunes from the fun collection Old MacDonald Had the Blues by Rebekah Maxner and had everyone see if they could guess what song it was. Especially the younger siblings got into this game and were eager to call out the tunes they recognized!

We concluded the evening with a tasty ice cream bar! Thankfully, the evening wasn’t quite as surprising as last year, and we had a wonderful time with all the studio families catching up after summer break and anticipating a great year ahead!

Pictures and Easy Step-by-Step Instructions for Making Dozens of Musical Instruments

In conjunction with our rhythm-themed practice incentive, Beat the Pirates!, this year, I was thinking it would be cool to spend time at one of our group classes to make our own rhythm instruments. So I was thrilled to come across this wonderful page at DariaMusic.com that has dozens of musical instruments you can make using easy-to-find materials from your home!

Whether it’s a pair of bilmas to help you keep the beat, or a handy pie pan bodhran drum, Daria has pictures and instructions to guide you as you construct your own versions of each instrument. (Now if only I could find some real turtle shells, we could make authentic turtle shell rattles!) I’m excited to explore the possibilities, and would love to know if you have a favorite homemade rhythm instrument that students can make!

Review of Carnival of the Animals Piano Camp by Music Educator Resources

Summer is just around the corner and with it the opportunity to switch gears and host some fun alternatives to traditional lessons. One of my favorite summer activities over the years has been putting on piano camps. We typically do a one-week camp, with students meeting every day of the week for several hours. By far, our most-loved piano camp is Carnival of the Animals.

Jennifer Foxx, of the inspiring website Music Educator Resources, has just posted a review of Carnival of the Animals, so if you’re interested in getting more of the inside scoop from another teacher, just head on over to her blog to check it out. (She’s also got a coupon code for $10 if you’d like to purchase the piano camp package and use it in your studio!)


Here’s a snapshot of my students at the end of our week of the Carnival of the Animals piano camp, displaying their completed art projects and the fun student workbook they used throughout the week!

Group Piano Class Highlights

Here’s a 1-minute video (created on my iPhone using the Videolicious app) of our first Vanishing Voices group piano class of the year!

We had a great time playing a round of Composer Trading, performing for each other, learning about Josquin Desprez, listening to a couple of his compositions, and attempting to decipher the Latin text (or at least a few key words!).

Note: Sorry for the choppiness of the sound with the music cutting in and out. I need to do a little more experimenting either with this app (if I buy the premium version) or with some other video app (any suggestions?) to see if there is a way to keep the music from the video clips going even when still shots are incorporated.

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!]

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!

Using Pennies to Teach 16th Note Rhythms

Years ago I first tried the idea of using pennies as a tactile way to teach the subdivision of 16th note rhythms. It’s been a while since I used it in my teaching, but now that all of my students are reaching a higher level of playing, it was time to break out the penny jar again!

At our final group class of the year I let each student select a rhythm instrument and pick 16 pennies from my penny jar. We started by stacking them in four groups of four and beating a steady quarter note beat. Then I had them separate them into eight stacks of two and beating the eighth note rhythms. Finally, we placed all of the pennies individually and played them as sixteenth notes with a slight emphasis on the first one of each beat to help maintain a sense of pulse.

We used these fabulous sixteenth note rhythm flashcards from D’Net Layton and I showed them what the rhythm patterns looked like, then we arranged the pennies to match the pattern, then practiced playing it on our instruments. The students really enjoyed this approach, and it seemed to help them understand both the mathematical subdivision of the beats and also how to play them fluidly within a beat structure.

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!