Forget about cadences, inversions and singing “here comes the bride” to remind about intervals. Today we’re talking about aural piano activities you can do right from the word go.
These aural piano activities are not only great for your new students’ ears. They also serve as wonderful brain breaks or off-the-bench time.
These ideas all work great for private lessons, but I especially love to use them during overlapping and partner lessons – they’re even more fun with more kiddos!
These first three aural activities can take as little as two minutes (no excuses!) out of your lesson time and will definitely get the wiggles out. Use them as a warm-up or as a transition between different parts of the lesson.
Adapt any of these ideas to your student’s age and abilities by letting them look at the piano (to make it easier) or turning them to face the other way (to make it more challenging).
1. High and Low
The rules are simple:
- If it’s a high note – stand up.
- If it’s a low note – sit down on the floor.
Play lots of different styles of high and low notes such as staccato, long notes, loud, and soft. This will help students to really hone in on the concept of high and low specifically.
To add an extra level add a chair/bench into the mix and start including middle notes. You could also try playing different instrument samples (recordings or using digital piano sounds) so your student gets used to the different timbres.
2. Slow and Fast
Another great one for wriggly students!
- Play any simple pattern on the piano and ask your student to march in time.
- Ask them whether it is fast or slow.
- Keep the same pattern going but gradually slow it down or speed it up.
- Tell your student they have to stay in time with you and ask them intermittently about the tempo.
Once this becomes easy for your student, teach them the Italian tempo terms to use. Just a few will do in the beginning such as: Largo, Andante and Allegro. Now you get the extra bonus of being ahead of the game on those music terms.
3. Same or Different
Yes, really. If you haven’t taught as many very young beginners as I have you might think this one is unnecessary – but it isn’t.
If your student can’t identify if pitches are the same or different, she’s going to have a very hard time playing anything by ear and noticing patterns. So make it fun with this interactive aural practice.
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- Play a note and then a second note on the piano.
- Ask your student to hold up one arm if they were different, and two arms if they were the same.
- Gradually bring the notes closer together on the piano.
- Make the ‘sames’ more different by varying the length, articulation and volume.
Done in this way, it doesn’t need to look like a “test” and it will give you valuable insight into your student’s musical ear.
For another fun way to practice these basic listening concepts (especially with preschoolers) try these free listening paddles.
Now we come to my favourite aural activities for beginners – using my little animal assistants.
Many children won’t have been exposed to much classical music when they get to me. These animal pieces are a great place to start as they’re familiar territory to latch onto, and give the kids vivid imagery to associate with the pieces.
You’re welcome to use this playlist in your own lessons too. It’s roughly in the order I would introduce the animals, although the sequence isn’t really all that important.
The first of these aural activities is just about getting acquainted with the animals. I start with The Bear as this piece is particularly distinctive.
- Listen to the piece together.
- Ask your student what animal she thinks it might be.
- Help her with guiding questions: “Do you think it’s big or small? Scary or friendly?”
Introduce just 2-3 new animals in this way at the first lesson. Next time, review these animals and only introduce more if she can recognise these first ones without help.
Continue this identification process at each lesson until you have the full set and mix in the aural activities below as you go.
The bonus of this one is that your student will get extra practice feeling the beat by marching around the room.
- Put on the track.
- Instead of calling out the name, ask your student to walk around the room just like that animal.
- Only when the piece is over should she tell you who she thought it was.
This is great fun. Students can get really creative with how they act out the butterfly, or bear, or tortoise.
You can also use the animals as a jumping-off point for some improvisation.
- Listen to one of the animals and identify it, for example, the bear.
- Discuss what makes it sound like that animal. Are there high sounds or low sounds? Is it fast or slow?
- Ask your student to use these ideas to make her own bear sounds on the piano.
Take this a step further and get two of the animals interacting together. What would it sound like if the bear met the kangaroo? Can you create a musical story together using the animal characters?
Create Your Own Interactive Aural Piano Activities
The next time you want to practice ear training with your students, please don’t bring out some dull and dry exercises.
Use these ideas as a springboard to think about your own ideas for aural activities. How can you make it more active and interactive?
I’m sure you’ll come up with some fantastic and creative ideas. Feel free to share them in the comments.