Spin the Rhythm Bottle

Here’s a rhythm activity I used this week with all my students. The basic version here is okay, but bland. It’s enormously more interesting if you use one or more of the variants below.

What You Need:

  • A set of cards with note values on it
  • A bottle
  • Paper
  • Pencil


  • Lay out your cards in a circle and place the bottle in the middle.
  • Pick a time signature and write it on your paper.

How to Play:

  • Have the student spin the bottle. When it stops spinning, they should draw that note after the time signature on the paper.
  • Ask the students how many beats they have left in the measure. If it’s not complete, they spin again until it is. If they get a note that is too big to fit in the rest of the measure, they should fill out the measure with one (and only one) note that will complete it.
  • When the measure is complete, have them count and clap it.
  • Build a second measure with the same method. When it’s complete, they should count and clap both measures in succession.
  • Repeat until you run out of time.


  • To make it easier, limit the types of notes you include, such as only quarter notes and half notes.
  • To make it harder, include harder notes such as sixteenths and triplets.
  • To drill on a new rhythm concept, such as eighth notes, put a lot of the same card out so they are more likely to get that rhythm.
  • To make it more exciting, include a Wild card. Wild means they can choose a percussion instrument from a selection you provide to play and count their rhythms.
  • To reinforce after you have several measures, clap (or play) it as a round. Take turns being the person who starts or the person who starts at the beginning when the first person has made it to the second measure.
  • To use as an improv technique, have them improv a melody on the piano based on the rhythms they created.


Slash the Note Race

Here’s a game to practice note reading. It’s based loosely on any number of digital games where you have to slash, shoot, or twist a series of items before the time runs out.

What You Need:

  • At least two pages with notes on it. You can use copies of actual music, or you could use any number of note drills like this one from Making Music Fun or this one from Susan Paradis.
  • Sheet protectors
  • A set of cards with A through G on it, shuffled
  • Whiteboard markers
  • Timer


  • Put your pages of notes in the sheet protectors.

How to Play:

  • The student draws a card to determine what note to look for. If necessary, go over where those notes are on the staff, so they have it in mind. You can do this just by talking it through, or you can show them a flashcard with the note on it, depending on the age and skill level of the student.
  • Set the timer. I generally start with 45 seconds for the student.
  • When the timer starts, hand the student one of the sheet protectors with music in it. The student has 45 seconds to use a marker and slash through each instance of the note on their sheet.
  • As the teacher, I have to wait until there are only ten seconds left before I can begin slashing the notes on my sheet. (Having only ten seconds means I generally can’t finish the sheet, which brings my score down below the student’s score.)
  • When time is up, swap sheets for scoring. Both teacher and student get two points for each correct slash, but they lose one point for each note they slashed incorrectly or should have slashed and didn’t. There is also a four point bonus for having found everything on the page.
  • If time permits, play another round with a different note. Vary the amount of time according to the student’s ability.


  • To make it easier, use music that only has treble or bass clef on it and stays within one position. For example, music where the only C will be Middle C.
  • To make it harder, use more complicated music with lots of notes, including notes that are in harmonic intervals or notes where a key signature needs to be taken into account.
  • To make it harder or easier, give either the student or yourself a different amount of time to complete the task.


August 2017 Plans

Here’s what we did in August.

Week 1: We played Pictionary (Music Twist) to practice note reading.

  • Very successful as long as I removed the right cards from the stack based on the kids’ abilities.

Week 2: We did a drumming challenge, which mainly involved improvising rhythms and playing them back on drums.

  • I haven’t blogged about the details yet because I’m still pondering why it worked so well for some students and not so well for others.

Week 3: We did the Thunderstorm Improv.

  • Everyone enjoyed it, and it was really very interesting seeing how many completely different thunderstorms we got even though everyone had the same basic instructions.

Week 4: We did the Cup Tower drill to work on our current pieces.

  • A big hit with everyone.

Cup Tower (How to Drill Anything)

So much of music comes down to drill, and I’ve never yet had a student who didn’t enjoy this method of doing it.


What You Need:

  • A set of plastic cups (any number you want).
    • With a permanent marker, write a challenge on each one. For example, you could say Section 1, Section 2, Section 3, Section 4, Trouble Spot, Improv, Play by Ear, Review Song, Curved Fingers, Name that Note, Rhythm Flashcard, etc. It’s good if the majority of them are drill that need to be done, with just a sprinkling of more fun ones like improv or review song. My set has duplicates of the four section numbers so we can get to those sections more than once.


  • Determine which part of the student’s current piece should be Section 1, which part should be Section 2.

How to Play:

  • The student builds a cup tower. Whichever cup makes the tower fall is the next challenge. The student then has to do whatever is written on the cup, whether it’s play that section of the piece, clap a rhythm, name the notes on a predetermined number of flashcards, play a section with perfectly curved fingers, etc. Depending on the length of your sections, you may want to say they have to play it three times or just once, or that they have to play it until you are satisfied with the quality.
  • Then build another cup tower and accept the next challenge.


While students of all ages enjoy this, the danger is that the older ones with better fine motor skills will spend a long time making a very good cup tower that doesn’t fall, and not get to the actual music. Here are some additional rules to make it harder. I usually start out without any of these rules, until I see how good they are at the cup tower and whether I need to do this.

  • No more than three (or even two) cups can touch the ground.
  • The teacher is allowed to randomly be a hurricane and attempt to blow things down.
  • The student must jump on the ground next to the tower after every third cup to see if an earthquake can dislodge it.