Piano games and music activities are SO beneficial when it comes to teaching beginner piano students, especially in group classes. Whether you’re looking to use games as a little break or as a fun way to reinforce music theory, Heather Nanney is here to give us a step-by-step plans of action for her various games and activities.
Thank you so much to Heather for sharing all these great resources for free. Make sure you check out all her freebies at Fun Key Music (cool name!!)
Table Of Contents:
- How Do I Start Teaching Groups?
- Starting Activity for Beginner Piano Students
- Why You Should Begin Piano Lessons With Ice Breakers
- Two Ice Breaker Games For Piano Lessons
- Flashcard Relay: A Fun Game To Get Students Moving
- Timed Challenges
- Benefits Of Using Relays and Timed Challenges
- Chord Pong
- Balloon Relay
- Heads Up
- Looking for More Inspiration?
How Do I Start Teaching Groups?
A great way to teach beginner students is by incorporating group lessons into your studio. But how do we do that?
- Weekly – all lessons are offered as groups, and students learn piano along side of one another
- Monthly – used as a means to make up all piano lessons that are missed within a given month.
- Hybrid program – where private lessons and group classes are given in conjunction on a regular basis.
- A given number of group classes per year are held in place of the private lesson (these could also be turned into a piano party!)
Group sessions work for a number of teachers in a number of formats. No way is “the right way”. Whatever works for you and your students is right!
In my studio, I hold six group classes on a yearly basis in place of regular lessons.
I try to group students together by age and ability as much as possible, however I have found that having a mix can be a wonderful thing. Younger students can learn a lot from older students and older students can gain confidence in helping and leading younger students.
The games below are designed for groups of four or more students (and let me tell you, kids love these games!)
If you’re looking for more information about setting up group classes, check out this blog
Starting Activity for Beginner Piano Students
I like to start the piano lesson with a self-guided activity that can be done with one just student or with the entire group. As they all arrive at different times for various reasons, it’s great to have a fun game that any number of students can be playing while they wait for others to arrive (and that’s easy for the other group members to jump in upon arrival).
Music games in the form of apps are a fun and simple way to do this. The first student to arrive begins by playing a game on your iPad by themselves, then when the next person arrives they can take a turn. This is also really useful for you as the piano teacher – while the students are engaged playing a game you have a little extra time if you need to gather materials, talk with parents, turn off the sound on your phone, text back the mom who lets you know she’s running behind, etc.
If you’re looking for more tech games to reinforce rhythm and composition, check out these recommendations.
Why You Should Begin Piano Lessons With Ice Breakers
Rather than jumping straight into playing music, I recommend starting with an ice breaker. This is because…
- Kids can learn each other’s names
- Students get to know each other
- They help children come out of their shells
- They encourage talking and interacting (which is a great way to build community within your studio – isn’t it great when students form part of a bigger group and feel connected to other students?!)
This is the one point in the lesson that if the activity doesn’t relate to music at all, it’s OK. I let myself off the hook if icebreakers are not music themed.
There is so much more to our students than piano and this is a time to celebrate that! They have other hobbies, interests, talents, etc. and icebreakers are a good way to get them talking about these things.
Two Ice Breaker Games For Piano Lessons
Here are two icebreakers to get your students talking and interacting:
1) Name And Question
- Everyone gathers in a circle.
- One student goes first by introducing themselves and answering a ‘Get To Know You’ question.
- Repeat with every student, moving around the circle.
Here are some ideas for Get To Know You questions:
- What school do you go to? What grade are you in?
- What is your favorite: color, food, movie, TV show, superhero, band, song, etc.
- What sports do you play?
- What is something you are really good at? (Take notes of these answers and use them later in private lessons – find a way to incorporate something they already feel good about!)
It’s so fun when students discover the things that they have in common with one another and hearing conversations like, “I thought I saw you at school!” or “What?! Twenty One Pilots is your favorite band, too?! Did you see their latest video?”
Be proactive in creating these connections among your students.
If you know two of your students share a common interest, say something like “Hey Sara, did you know that Amanda also takes dance? Why don’t you show each other your favourite dance step from a routine you’re working on?”
2) Get In Line
Have students line up in a random order that you give to them:
- In alphabetical order by name (first, middle, or last – try all 3)
- From youngest to oldest
- Birthday January 1st-December 31st.
- Shortest to tallest
For a challenge, have them form these lines without using their voices!
Now that students have arrived, everyone knows each other’s names, and they are interacting, that’s where the music making and learning starts!
If you have a group of older and more advanced students, you could also incorporate activities from this list of 20 Creative Ways To Start A Piano Lesson.
Here are a variety of things you can do at this point.
Flashcard Relay: A Fun Game To Get Students Moving
Piano games are a great way to reinforce music theory and help your students on their musical journey.
Whatever concept you’re looking to reinforce, you can turn it into a great game by incorporating movement. An easy and fun way to do this is with Flashcard Relays.
Flashcard Relay is a great music game as it can be adjusted to cover a range of music theory. For example, your students can sort chords into major or minor, sort half notes and quarter notes into their correct values, or even sort minor scales into natural, harmonic, or melodic.
- Divide your students into two teams
- Place a stack of flash cards in front of each group.
- Start the timer (you can decide on a time based on students’ ages and abilities)
- The first card is picked up and students identify the musical element.
- They then place the flash card in the correct pile/bin. (You can find cheap bins that will hold flash cards at a dollar store, or you can simply write a label on a piece of paper and have students create piles on each piece of paper).
- When the timer goes off, the team with the most cards correctly sorted by the end wins the first round.
- You can then start a second round with a different group of flash cards.
In addition to sorting, teams can also race to complete a task. By using a fun game (especially a timed game) to put students’ theory knowledge to the test, you can level up their understanding of certain concepts.
Timed challenges can include:
- Spelling scales. Each team member can only add one note of the scale at a time. Team Member One adds the first letter, Team Member Two adds the second letter, and so on. They could just write the letters down on a whiteboard, or you could have them draw the notes on a grand staff. The first team to complete a scale correctly are the winners.
(I like to give each team a different scale to complete so they’re note tempted to peek at the other team’s answers!)
- Spelling words. Each team is given a word to spell, using only letters from the musical alphabet. The first team to spell the word on the staff correctly wins the round.
- For younger beginners you could create a musical alphabet game. Task your students with writing out the note names of the musical alphabet, taking it in turns to write down one letter, possibly even starting on a different letter each round.
Benefits Of Using Relays and Timed Challenges
There are many reasons why relays and timed challenges make great piano lesson games:
- Encourage teamwork
- Keeps kids focused
- Creates energy as they try to complete their tasks quickly
- Can be used for any age or ability
- Any theory concept can be incorporated
- Don’t require a lot of materials
- Easy to set upWondering about the benefits of using games to teach music theory? Check out this blog to learn more.
If you’re looking for fun ways for students to reinforce their understanding of chords, the game ‘Chord Pong’ could be for you! In a nutshell, this game sees students bouncing ping pong balls into cups in order to build chords.
Here’s what you’ll need:
1. 6 ping pong balls
2. 15 plastic cups
3. Card stock
Preparation and Setup:
1. Print the Chord Pong file found here on card stock and cut along lines.
2. Set up cups in a pyramid. (1st row=1cup, 2nd row=2 cups, etc.)
3. Shuffle the cards and place several letter names in each cup.
How to Play:
1. Player one picks up 3 ping pong balls.
2. On their turn, they have a chance to throw each ball once (a total of three throws per turn). If a ball does not land in a cup, that ball is out of play for the remainder of that turn.
If a ball successfully lands inside one of the cups, the player choose one of the notes inside that cup (without peeking)
3. Play continues until one student has collected 3 chords.
Planning a group lesson with multi-level students? Read this blog for tips!
Students race to gather balloons and reinforce note values.
Here’s how to play:
Blow up balloons and write one note/rest on each balloon. I used around 15 balloons and used eighth, quarter, half, and dotted half notes/rests.
Divide students into two groups. Call out a number at the beginning of each round. The number represents the number of beats your teams will be collecting. (8 beats, 5 beats, 6, 4, 9, 3, etc.)
- Teams gather balloons until they reach the correct number of beats. Players may only collect ONE balloon at a time.
- Start with player 1 from each team. Once you say “Go!”, players will run to the pile of balloons and collect just ONE. They will run back to their group and then player 2 will run to collect one balloon. Continue in this manner until the teams tell you they are finished. Double check that teams have collected the correct number of beats. If they are correct, they win the round. If not, the other team gets a chance. Continue in this manner until one team reaches 5 points (or any number you set).
This is a great activity particularly if you need to test your students’ ability to differentiate between a half note and a dotted half note, as everyone will be on the ball (or the balloon!) as to how many beats are being collected.
- Try another version of Balloon Relay by writing a note name on each balloon and call out different chords or scales for your students to spell, with everyone making sure they get the correct note each time.
- Get creative with different adaptations of this game and share how you use this in your studio!
Students race against the clock to guess as many musical clues as possible.
Download the Heads Up! App on your mobile device and buy the in-app purchase of “Build Your Own Deck”.
Enter as many musical clues as possible, or if you are focusing on a particular subject, enter clues relating to that subject.
- Composers (Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy, John Williams)
- Dynamic markings (piano, forte, mezzo piano, fortissimo)
- Tempo markings (adagio, andante, allegro, prestissimo)
- Chords (A major, F minor, B diminished, C7)
- Musical eras (Baroque, Classical, Romantic)
- Musical genres (pop, hip hop, R&B, classical, country)
- Notes and rests (quarter note, whole rest, sixteenth note, half rest)
Once your clues are entered, students have one minute to answer as many clues correctly as possible, without rhyming, using any part of the clue itself, or giving the first letter of the clue. It’s fun to see how students describe each of the clues!
Looking for More Inspiration?
Here are some other ideas to spark your creativity:
- Is the weather nice? Do some activities or play piano games outdoors!
- Break into pairs or small groups of 3 or 4 to complete a task. Reconvene after a set time and have each team share what they worked on.
- Have centers where students rotate to different activities.
- Watch quality performances from The Piano Guys, Anderson & Roe Piano Duo, Pentatonix, musical theater productions and other recordings. Don’t feel like you have to stick to strictly piano performances. Students can learn from any quality music performance! They can even learn something from performances that aren’t so great.
- Sound is motivating! Groups of students can create some pretty cool sounds. Think bucket drumming, cup tapping, ensemble playing, group improv, composing using body percussion/animal noises/etc. Let them be silly!
- Do your students have a favorite app? Think of a way to modify the app’s use for your group.
Remember, you do not have to invent new games for groups.
Think of ways you can adapt what you are already using successfully into a group setting. Do you have a games for an individual that you can turn into a group game? Do you have a game for reinforcing note and values, but you want to cover scales instead? How can you make it work in a different way? You can do this!
Group classes are a great experience for both students and teachers and I hope this gives you some ideas for your groups!
What can you create for a group lesson activity?
What is an activity that you already use in private lessons that you can adapt for groups? Share the instructions in a comment!