Winter Intervals

I have yet to have a student who can remember the definition of an interval (the distance between two notes). They sputter a bit, and I sigh and say, “Okay, play me a fourth.” That they can do.

Understanding intervals is not just great music theory, it also is enormously helpful in reading music. Your brain doesn’t have to process all the note names if it knows the relationships between the notes.

For this activity, I am indebted to Teach Piano Today for a great little free printable called Wintervals. It’s a lovely idea for private lessons in January, and their instructions are fun. I played it differently, in several different ways, as you can see below.

What you need:

  • The sheet Wintervals, printed from Teach Piano Today
  • One game piece to represent a snowman
    • I drew one up on cardstock in about 30 seconds. Teach Piano Today recommends a mini-marshmallow. Anything would work.
  • One die
    • I used a ten-sided one, but you could use a regular one.
  • Staff paper/pencil or giant staff/manipulatives (optional)


  • Place the game piece above the first square (“A”).

How to Play on the Keyboard:

  • Roll the dice. That number specifies what interval you need to play. The bottom note should be the letter on the square your game piece is on (A for the first turn). For example, if the die says 3, play A and C because that makes a third.
    • My 10-sided die included a 0. If they rolled that it meant teacher gets to pick the interval.
  • If the student plays the interval wrong, the game piece moves up one space. If correct, the student can choose between moving up one or two spaces. That choice is pretty important because if the game piece lands on a hot spot, she melts and goes back to the beginning.
  • Repeat until the game piece makes it to the finish line.
  • Talking points along the way, depending on the level of the student:
    • Which intervals sound pretty?
    • Which intervals sound harsh?
    • Which intervals are so important they have a special name? (1=unison; 8=octave)
    • Which intervals sound harsh but could be resolved into something pretty? (7th to 8th, 2nd to 3rd, etc.)
    • How many half steps are contained within the interval?
    • Is the interval major or minor?

How to Play on the Staff:

  • Follow the same instructions as above, but instead of playing the notes, draw them on staff paper or place manipulatives on a giant staff.
  • Talking points along the way, depending on the level of the student:
    • Odd numbered intervals always go from line to line or space to space.
    • Even numbered intervals have a line and a space.
    • Knowing intervals allows you to correctly place notes on ledger lines, even if you don’t know what the name of the note is.

How to Play Backwards on Either Keyboard or Staff:

  • Alternatively, you could also skip the number die entirely. Instead, have the student draw letters A-G out of a bag. Then they play or write the start note from the Wintervals sheet, play or write the note from the bag, and name the interval the two notes make.


Sequence Song (Composition Activity)

One of the most basic compositional techniques is a sequence. It happens when composers use a basic idea and then they repeat it starting on a different note. Beethoven uses it here:

Beethoven Sequence

The carol “Angels We Have Heard on High” uses it here:

Angels sequence

This week my students used it to compose their own songs.

What You Need:

  • A copy of this worksheet for writing out their song. Print one out for each student.
  • A pencil
  • A method of choosing start notes for each sequence (optional)
    • I used a toy catapult to lob small balls at different targets. It was a big hit, but anything will work. Dice, bits of paper to draw from a bag, shuffled cards, anything.
    • Alternatively, you could just tell the kids what notes to use. Or have them choose themselves. That’s easier, but less fun. I gave my students this option instead of the catapult. None of them took me up on it. As one student said, “When in doubt, always go with the medieval weaponry.”


  • None. (Unless you have chosen an elaborate method of choosing start notes.)

How to Compose:

  • Explain what a sequence is. I used the examples at the top of this post.
  • Start by writing their name up top as the composer. They can also give it a title, but my students all preferred to save that for last, after they’d heard their song.
  • Starting on C, compose two measures in 4/4 time. Write it down on the first staff on the worksheet.
    • Older students could write it out themselves, but I found it saved a lot of time if I just did it for them.
    • Some students need a fair bit of help thinking through the timing so that they end up with eight total beats.
    • I did not allow black notes, and I encouraged most students to stay within a five-note pattern. It just makes the next steps simpler.
    • I did insist the first note had to be a C to establish the key in our ears. Technically, this is not required, but again, we were trying to make it work for them. The theme does not have to end on C.
  • Make sure the student can play back the main theme. If they’re unsure, they should do it several times.
  • Choose the starting note for the first sequence using whatever method you’ve chosen.
    • If you’re choosing for the student here are some common chord progressions from C:
      • C-C-F-G-C
      • C-A-F-G-C
  • Write the starting note on the blank line for Sequence 1 and have the student play their main idea having moved their hand so that their first finger is on the new starting note.
    • There is space on the worksheet to write out all the notes. I usually didn’t bother. The students can do it without that.
    • Depending on the melody, the note we moved to, and the ear of the student, some students objected to the way it sounds in the new key. If they did, I made some suggestions for slight modifications to make it sound better. The theme sounding minor is not a bad thing. It actually adds to the interest of the piece. But if they are starting on F, they may want a B-flat instead of a B. Or if they’re starting on E, they may want an F-sharp instead of an F. We played that by ear. With the older students, we talked through why those notes sounded wrong to them.
  • Play the song so far.
  • Repeat those steps for the next set of sequences, until you have filled the page.
  • The final sequence should be a repeat of the main theme in C. If the melody does not end on C, add a whole note C at the end to finish it off.
  • To finish it off, we played the whole song with me improvising an accompaniment below their melody. All of my students were very pleased with how it sounded once we had an accompaniment, and they had very little trouble coming up with titles once they’d heard the whole thing.

Sequence Song



Takenoko (Music Twist) (How to Drill Anything)

My daughter was given Takenoko for Christmas and she loves it. It’s a fun game about a panda eating bamboo and a gardener growing it. I quickly co-opted it into the studio, and we have played it every day this week. To make it possible to use in a lesson, I have simplified/changed the rules considerably, but it is a fun game either way. My rules will likely not make sense unless you are looking at the game and have played it the normal way, but I’m preserving them here anyway. I have no relationship with the company that makes Takenoko. We’re just a family who enjoyed using it.

What You Need:

  • The board game Takenoko
  • Three stacks of flashcards
    • For most of my students, I used treble clef notes, bass clef notes, and intervals.
    • For some of my students, I used key signatures by name, key signatures by staff, and intervals.
    • Naturally, you can use whatever your student needs to review.


  • Find the pond tile. Place it out in the center of your space with the panda figure and the gardener figure on it.
  • Make a stack of the hexagonal tiles to draw from.
  • Lay out your three sets of flashcards and assign a color to each (pink, green, or yellow).
  • Separate the stacks of goal cards by color. The student will need the purple panda set. The teacher needs the red gardener set. Using the blue tile set is optional.
  • Each player should start with three cards from their respective deck. If you are using the blue tile set, one of the three should be a blue card.


How to Play:

  • The student goes first.
  • A typical turn has three components:
    • Draw a hexagonal tile and play it. It should immediately grow a piece of bamboo that matches it’s color.
    • Draw a flashcard from the pile that matches the color of the tile and answer it.
    • Move the panda (or the gardener, if it’s the teacher’s turn) in a straight line in any direction. When the panda lands on a tile, she eats one piece of bamboo from that tile. When the gardener lands on a tile, he makes bamboo grow by one piece, not only on the tile he’s on, but also on all adjacent tiles of the same color.
  • Once the panda has collected the right bamboo pieces to complete the goal on one of her three cards, she can show that card and gain the points from it. Same deal if the gardener completes any of the bamboo groves on his card.
  • If a card is played and points are earned, that player can draw another goal card to replace it, so that three goals are always possible.
  • Play until you run out of time, and then count up the points to see who won.

A Few Notes:

  • The panda cards are easier to complete than the gardener cards, which is why I am always the gardener and the student is always the gardener.
  • If students catch me answering wrongly on a flashcard, they get a free panda move wherever they want to go.
  • In this version, we ignore all the little symbols on the tiles. No need to worry about irrigation, fertilizer, no-panda-zones, or any of that. It’s a fun game with it, but it would take the whole lesson time to explain it all. As it is, it’s a little heavier on explanation than I generally like. But it was a big hit, and several of my students really needed the review to be in a fun format, so it was worth it.



Jingle Bells, Lead Sheet Activity

In the final week before Christmas, we were playing around with lead sheets and accompaniment styles. Jingle Bells is a great one to use because the kids all know it, and the right hand never goes out of a standard 5-finger pattern. Songs like that are rare.

When I planned this, I was worried it would be hard and frustrating for some of my kids, so I had planned a lot of Christmas jokes to use as interludes to break the tension. I needn’t have worried. They all enjoyed it, and I didn’t end up using any of the jokes at all.

What You Need:


  • For older kids, no setup required.
  • For younger kids, you could lay the cards out on the floor and use dice and a Christmas ornament to select a card.

How to Play:

  • The student starts by sight reading just the right hand of the melody.
    • Beginners could do just the first line, or they could learn it by rote instead of reading.
  • Introduce or review the concept of a lead sheet.
  • Reinforce the concept by playing Jingle Bells with the Root Note Accompaniment. That card has a carrot on my cards.
    • Depending on the student, they could either play both hands or just the left hand.
  • Once they’ve got the idea, start drawing cards (or rolling dice) and play Jingle Bells as many times and in as many ways as you have time for.
    • The notes on the bottom of each card are there as a reminder only. The student should play by understanding the pattern, not by reading.
    • The accompaniment styles vary widely in difficulty. For each card, make a quick evaluation about whether this student should play right hand, left hand, or both. As the teacher, you play whichever hand the student is not using. Many of the styles can be made easier by using both hands to play it.
  • At the end, spread out all the cards the student has used and ask their opinion on which style of Jingle Bells they liked best. They liked being able to give their own musical review.


Jingle Bells, Accompaniment Style