Spot the Rhythm

It’s rhythm week here, and this activity evolved with the week. In it’s final incarnation, here’s how it worked.

What You Need:

  • A set of one measure rhythm cards
  • percussion instruments (optional)


  • Lay out six to twelve cards, face up

How to Play:

This game is a series of challenges. Each step is a little harder than the one before. The goal is to get through as many challenges as you can before the lesson ends.

  1. The student chooses a card, but does not remove it, point to it, or indicate it in any way. He should count a preparatory measure out loud to establish the beat. Then he should clap the measure (not counting out loud). Hopefully, the teacher will be able to identify which measure the student chose.
  2. Switch parts.
  3. Repeat challenge one using a percussion instrument instead of clapping. If you’re not using percussion instruments, just clap.
  4. Switch parts and percussion instruments.
  5. Return to clapping. This time choose two measures. Again, count a preparatory measure. Then clap the two measures in succession. Hopefully, the teacher can identify both measures.
  6. Switch parts. Many of my students found one measure easy to identify, but two measures very difficult. Repeat the clapping as many times as necessary to ensure success.
  7. Add in the percussion instrument.
  8. Switch parts and percussion instruments.
  9. Return to clapping. This time choose three measures.
  10. Etc.



  • To make it easier:
    • Limit the rhythms to quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes.
    • Put out fewer cards to choose from.
  • To make it harder:
    • Include eighths, sixteenths, triplets, etc.
    • Put out more cards to choose from.
    • Start with two or three measures to begin with. Or go on up to six or seven measures.
    • Put out mixed time signatures so they may have to switch in the middle.


Spot the Rhythm

Play Like an Animal (Improv)

This is a very short improv exercise that most of my students love. You can repeat it as many times as you want, so it’s a good time filler regardless of how much time you have.

What You Need:

  • Nothing


  • None

How to Play:

  • Ask the student to choose an animal. Any animal will work, though it’s most fun if there is something distinctive about that animal. Kangaroos, cheetahs, eels, and turtles are all good choices.
  • Talk about what musical characteristics describe that animal.
    • Fast or slow?
    • Loud or quiet?
    • Legato or staccato?
    • Major or minor?
  • Play an improv duet together about that animal.
    • I usually stick to C major or A minor for this because we’re working on musicality more than we are working on key signatures.
    • I just play the primary chords in whatever style suits the animal.
    • The student makes up a melody to go with it.
    • The student should end on the tonic.
  • Afterwards, be sure to give some compliments about it. Did it have rhythm? Did it stick within the key signature? Did it have a motif? Etc.
  • If you repeat this, try picking an animal that is very different.
Play Like an Animal! (Piano Improv Exercise)

Lucky Penny Game (Note Review)

Every St Patrick’s Day, I play the Lucky Penny game with my students. This is not my original idea, and you can find the original brief instructions at Sing a New Song.  It is a very simple game to review notes on the staff. I particularly like it because it isn’t just a drill of finding the note name. They also have to connect it through to the correct note on the piano. I always have some students who are great at naming the note, but still have no clue which octave they ought to be playing it in. This game helps.

What You Need:

  • Flashcards with the notes you want to review
  • As many pennies as you have flashcards. One (or more) should be marked on one side in some way as the lucky one.
    • I use Euro pennies. My American students are always delighted by how small they are and the fact that they really are Irish pennies. Of course, if you don’t have a source for Euro pennies, any other small coin works just fine.
    • My lucky penny has a sticker of a four leaf clover.

How to Play:

  • Since I am not the originator of the game, I will just direct you to Sing a New Song to get the instructions on how to play.
  • My modifications are as follows:
    • I only have one lucky penny, not 2-5. If they have to go through two full octaves to find the penny, I don’t consider that a bad thing. It’s just more practice.
    • I don’t give out candy, since I try to keep that at an absolute minimum. If they aren’t expecting candy, students are still interested in seeing how lucky they are (i.e., how quickly they find the lucky penny).


  • To make it easier or shorter, limit the number of notes you ask.
  • To make it harder, don’t have them remove the penny on the note on the staff. Instead pick an interval and require them to remove the penny a third above or a fourth below the note on the staff. You can then ask them to name whether that interval is major, minor, diminished, etc.



February 2018 Plans

Here’s what we did in February:

Week 1: We reviewed notes on the giant staff. I gave students a choice between Giant Staff Twister, Giant Staff Hopscotch, and Giant Staff Bean Bag Toss.

Week 2: We celebrated Valentine’s Day and dictated rhythms with silly Valentine poems.

Week 3: We celebrated Chinese New Year with the Sight Reading Dragon.

Week 4: We got a head start on St. Patrick’s Day. We reviewed finger numbers and learned “The Rakes of Mallow.” With some students, we also practiced our musicality by switching up the dynamics, tempo, and key signature.