For Health and Strength, Theme and Variations

I started this to put together some thoughts on how to help my students improv on this theme, but it got a little out of hand. I can’t imagine at what forum I would ever play my version, but here is my theme and variations on “For Health and Strength.”

My variations are:

  1. Blues
  2. Upside Down, Inside Out, and Backwards
  3. Country-Western
  4. Alberti Bass
  5. Johann Strauss
  6. Boogie-Woogie
  7. Haunted House
  8. Latin
  9. Flowing Water
  10. Bossa Nova
  11. Bach Chorale
  12. Persian
  13. Native American
  14. Debussy
  15. John Cage
  16. Chopin



Turkey Feathers (How to Drill Anything)

There is nothing better than using the same materials you already created for a new purpose. My Thanksgiving turkey from Pluck the Turkey (Note Review) is a multi-purpose turkey for drilling other things as well.

What You Need:

  • A turkey body, plus a lot of feathers
    • I cut mine out of scrapbooking paper so they were already in cute patterns with no extra effort on my part.
    • If you want to be able to reuse it for multiple purposes, laminate everything. Otherwise, don’t bother.
  • Tape or sticky tack


  • Write on the back of the feathers what you want to drill, such as:
    • Phrase 1, Phrase 2, Phrase 3, OR
    • Review Song, Recital Song, Sightreading, OR
    • Rhythms to clap back OR
    • write absolutely nothing and just draw a card from a stack of flashcards when necessary.
  • Hide the feathers around the room or don’t bother and just put them in a heap next to your turkey body.

How to Play:

  • The student finds a feather if they are hidden or just choose one if they’re not.
  • Do whatever is on the flashcard.
  • Tape or sticky tack the feather on the turkey body to make your turkey resplendent.
  • Repeat.


Pumpkin Bowling (How to Drill Anything)

Pumpkin bowling was used with great success during my final lesson before Thanksgiving. We used it to choose variations on “For Health and Strength,” but it could be used for anything.

What You Need:

  • A mini pumpkin
  • Flashcards with whatever you want to drill
    • These could be official flashcards with notes on the staff on them, or they could be scraps of paper that say phrase 1, phrase 2, phrase 3, etc., or practically anything else.
  • Something to use as bowling pins
    • I don’t have actual bowling pins, but I have used stacks of plastic bowls, larger pumpkins, paper towel rolls, anything you have several of and will not break.


  • Place a flashcard under each of your makeshift bowling pins.


How to Play:

  • The student rolls (not throws), the mini pumpkin toward the bowling pins. Whichever one they hit, do the flashcard under it. (If it’s something heavy like a large pumpkin, it won’t actually fall over, but it’s okay just to bump it.)
  • Replace the bowling pin with a new flashcard.
  • Repeat.




For Health and Strength (Learn by Rote)

Certain of my students are really struggling with developing an ear, so a simple song that can lead to success without a lot of tears along the way is a good thing.

“For Health and Strength” is a traditional song, which is appropriate for Thanksgiving, fairly well known, and easy to learn, so it ticked all the boxes for ear training this month, and every one of my students picked it up pretty quickly, following this method:

  • Place the hands in middle C position.
  • Starting in the right hand, play four notes, three of which are the same:
    • G G G F
  • Then play the same pattern, but start on E:
    • E E E D
  • Play the same pattern again, but start on C:
    • C C C B
  • Start at the top and play the whole sequence:
    • G G G F   E E E D   C C C B
  • Our song doesn’t sound finished until we add a long home note at the end:
    • G G G F   E E E D   C C C B   C
  • The last thing we add is the pickup note at the beginning. It’s a low G. So our final sequence is:
    • G (low)  G G G F   E E E D   C C C B   C


Once they knew the basic song, we did a number of things depending on interest and ability level:

  • Play it in a round.
  • Transpose
  • Play it with duet accompaniment in various styles.
  • Create a variation in the melody by shaking up the rhythm or articulation or dynamics or making it minor.

Alternatively, you could also use this fakebook version to practice a different skill set with the same song.




Pluck the Turkey (Note Review)

What You Need:

  • A turkey body, plus a lot of feathers
    • I cut mine out of scrapbooking paper so they were already in cute patterns.
    • If you want to be able to reuse it for multiple purposes, laminate everything. Otherwise, don’t bother.
  • Flashcards with the notes of the staff.
  • Some kind of timer (only needed for version 2)


  • Write on the back of the feathers. (Use a whiteboard marker if you laminated.)
    • About three should say “Teacher Loses a Turn”
    • About three should say “Freebie”
    • Half of the rest should say “N” for name the note.
    • All of the rest should say “P” for play the note.
  • Lay out your turkey on the floor.


How to Play (Version 1, the competitive way):

  • The first player plucks a feather from the turkey and draws a note flashcard.
    • If the feather says “N,” the player should name the note on the flashcard.
    • If it says “P,” the player should play the note on the piano.
    • If it says “Freebie,” they get the feather for free.
  • Take turns until the turkey is completely plucked. Count the feathers to see who has the most.
    • The teacher loses a turn cards guarantee that the student will always have more. None of my kids picked up on this.

How to Play (Version 2, the timed way):

  • With input from the student, determine how long the student will need to completely pluck the turkey. (The amount of time varied from 1 to 5 minutes, depending on the level of the student and the number of feathers on the turkey.)
  • When the timer starts, the student plucks one feather at a time and plays or names the note. In this version, the teacher loses a turn feathers are just like a freebie feather.
    • (Occasionally, I surreptitiously stop the timer while they aren’t looking to make sure they finish in time.)