I generally try to drill notes on the staff for at least one week each month. This week we did Giant Staff—Twister (Music Twist), Giant Staff—Hopscotch, and Giant Staff—Bean Bag Toss.
However, some of my students have advanced beyond mere note drills. Some of them are old enough not to need an activity in the lesson at all, but several have not, and there’s nothing I dislike more than having to come up with more than one activity for the week. So this week, I’ve dreamed up a few ways to make note drills more useful for advanced students. These will work with pretty much any note name game.
- Set a key signature and then play the game as usual. For example, if the key is G major, all the notes would be normal, except any F would have to be named as F-sharp.
- Set an interval. The student must name both the note and the note that interval above (or below). For example, if the answer is C and the interval is a 3rd, the student must say C and E to get credit.
- Set a key signature. Then use solfege or the scale degrees instead of note names in the game.
This was not my most exciting or creative month of teaching. Fortunately, Christmas music can make up for a lot of things:
Week 1: We practiced note names with Trim the Tree (Note Review).
Week 2: We practiced sight reading with Christmas Sight Reading.
Week 3: We practiced Christmas lead sheets with Spin the Bottle on Lead Sheets
And after that we took a much need rest.
Everyone loves Christmas music enough that even sight reading can become bearable. This is not a game, but most of my students found it fun anyway.
What You Need:
- Books of Christmas music at various levels.
- I find that choosing a book two levels below where the student is works best.
- That’s not possible if your student is in the first two levels, but it may still be possible to go to the beginning of the book, or have them sight read just one line or measure while you play the rest. If worst comes to worst, learn it by rote instead of sight reading.
What to Do:
- Open up the book and just have them start playing!
- If they are doing well enough, play a duet part along with them.
Everybody loves Christmas music, but some of the students just aren’t ready for reading them. Here’s a fun way to incorporate a lot of Christmas music into a lesson, regardless of the student’s level. Naturally, you could do this at any time of year with other lead sheets.
What You Need:
- Christmas lead sheets, such as:
- Angels We Have Heard on High in C, G, D, F
- Deck the Halls in C, G, D, and F
- Jingle Bells in C, G, D, or F
- Oh, Come All Ye Faithful in C, G, D, and F
- Silent Night in C, G, D, F
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas in C, G, D, and F
- A bottle
- Lay the lead sheets out on the floor in a circle, with the bottle in the middle.
- I put out a stack for each song, with all key signatures in the stack, but that’s optional.
How to Play:
- Have the student spin the bottle. Whichever page it points to is your lead sheet for the round.
- Depending on the level, you can do one of the following:
- Student plays root note only. Teacher plays the melody.
- Teacher may need to point to each measure to keep the student on track.
- Student plays root chord only. Teacher plays the melody.
- Student plays a basic pattern, such as oom-pa-pa or Alberti bass. Teacher plays the melody.
- Student makes up their own accompaniment pattern. Teacher plays the melody.
- Student sight reads the melody. Teacher plays an accompaniment.
- Student plays the melody with root chords below.
- Student plays the melody with an accompaniment pattern below.
- When you’ve gone through the song, spin again for another one.
- Most of the variation comes in what part you have the student play, but you can also make it harder or easier by controlling the key signature. My beginners played only in C major. My more advanced started in C major, but if they spun the same song twice, the second time I changed the key.
I’m using an outside resource this week. It involves more cutting and laminating than I usually like, but all these little circles with notes on them could be reused in other games, which is why I was willing to do it.
The resource is Trim the Tree from Pianimation. Since I teach private lessons only, I had to adapt the rules slightly.
For my version, I first gave the students 1 minute and 30 seconds to see how many ornaments they could correctly get on the tree. That establishes a baseline. Then they try again to see if they can beat their own score.
- To make it easier, sort out the notes the student should know and use only them. Or separate out treble from bass clef.
- To make it harder, don’t have them match the note itself. Specify an interval (such as a 3rd) and have them match the ornament to a spot that is a 3rd above the note.
- To cheat and make sure the student does actually improve their score, sneakily pause the timer while they are working to give them extra time.