Motif Game

A musical motif is a device that most of my students don’t arrive at naturally. It needs explanation, and here is a great way to do it.

What You Need:

  • These cards, printed and cut up
  • A die
  • Game Pieces


  • Remove any cards you don’t want to use.
  • Starting with “Start,” lay the cards out face down on the floor like a board game. You can make loops and swirls and short cuts to make it more interesting. End with the “Finish” card.
  • Place your two game pieces on Start.

How to Play:

  • First explain the concept of a motif.
    • A motif is a very short musical idea. (Two measures maximum for this game.)
    • For example, the first line of “Twinkle, Twinkle,” the first measure of the “Imperial March” from Star Wars, the first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, etc.
    • Our ears like repetition, but they also get bored. Composers use motifs to create melodies by modifying their motif just enough that it stays interesting, but not so much that we can’t identify it as the same motif.
  • Both the student and the teacher need to come up with a motif in the key of C major. Keep it simple. Make the student play their idea several times until they can remember it consistently. When he can reliably play it back, he’s ready to play.
  • The student rolls the die and advances his game piece that many cards forward. Then he needs to return to the piano and play his same motif, but with the modifications specified on the card (i.e., with a different key, tempo, rhythm, etc.)
    • Some modifications are easier than others. You can keep score by assigning points for difficulty. Or you can ignore scores and just play to see who gets to finish first.
  • The teacher takes a turn with her own motif.
  • The first one to the finish line wins. (Or the one who collects the most difficulty points wins, if you are playing with points.)



  • To make it easier, only place out the easiest cards, such as dynamic changes and changing one note.
  • To make it harder, remove the easier cards, such as dynamic changes and changing one note.
  • To make it spookier, create your motif in A minor and remove all the cards that have major key signatures.

Motif Game



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