Christmas Sight Reading

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.

Setup:

  • None

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.

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Spin the Bottle on Lead Sheets

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 CG, DF
    • Deck the Halls in CG, D, and F
    • Jingle Bells in CGD, or F
    • Oh, Come All Ye Faithful in C, GD, and F
    • Silent Night in C, GD, F
    • We Wish You a Merry Christmas in CG, D, and F
  • A bottle

Setup:

  • 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.

Variations:

  • 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.

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Trim the Tree (Note Review)

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.

Variations:

  • 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.

 

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Christmas Fortunes (Intervals)

Here is another use of external resource. Today I am indebted to Teach Piano Today for the Christmas Fortune Teller.

I used it more or less as described on their website on the keyboard, but we then moved down to a giant staff on the floor and did it on the staff as well. It is good for students to see the connection between what they do on the piano and what they see on the page.

The only note I would like to make is that the chances or winning are entirely based on luck and there is not an easy way for the teacher to manipulate it to make sure the student wins, which I always like to do. On the plus side, it’s so short, it’s possible to play multiple games in a lesson, so that they have a chance to win even if they lose at first.

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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:

Setup:

  • 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