Giant Staff—Bean Bag Toss

For this activity, you need a giant staff. I made mine by using a Sharpie marker to draw five evenly spaced lines on a piece of heavy white fabric. The fabric was leftover from a friend’s IKEA curtains adventure, so the whole thing was free. Alternatively, you could check out the curtains/tablecloth section in Goodwill. No need to spend a lot of money on a nice, new piece of fabric.

What You Need:

  • A giant staff
  • A treble or a bass clef
    • It doesn’t have to match the size of the staff. Mine doesn’t.
  • Bean bag


  • Lay out the staff on the floor and place your clef.

How to Play:

  • Stand together beneath your giant staff.
  • Mutually decide on your teacher handicap. For my beginners, I give a five second handicap. More advanced students get only one or two seconds.
  • The first player tosses the bean bag onto the staff. The student should call out the name of the note it lands on. The teacher silently counts out the handicap seconds and then calls out the name of the note it lands on.
    • Note: Because the spaces are so much wider than the lines, I tell them that if even a tiny corner is touching the line, they should call the line note, not the space note.
  • Whoever called the correct note first gets a point.
  • Take turns tossing until someone has 10 points. Adjust the handicap as needed to make sure the student wins.


  • To make it easier, limit the number of notes you have to call to the ones the student has learned. If the bean bag lands on a note outside that range, have them say “Haven’t learned it!”
  • To make it harder, shorten the teacher handicap.
  • To make it even harder, use the game to practice intervals. Instead of naming the note it lands on, they should name the note a third above the note it lands on (or a fourth, fifth, whatever).
  • If the student is consistently throwing the bean bag way beyond the staff or aiming so that it always lands in the same place, take over all the throwing duties yourself. They shape up quickly under that threat.
Giant Staff—Bean Bag Toss

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.


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.



Christmas Gift (How to Drill Anything)

‘Tis the season. I used this for sight reading, but it could be used for pretty much anything.

What you need:

  • Cards for whatever you want to drill
  • A game piece (I used Christmas ornaments)
  • Dice
  • A box or basket filled with a Christmas gift
    • I used leftover Halloween candy because I’m desperate to get rid of it.
    • I typically don’t like giving out food. You could also use party favors, erasers, printable Christmas jokes, whatever.


  • Put your flashcards face down in a circle around the box.

How to Play:

  • Place the game piece on any random flashcard. The student rolls the dice and moves the piece that many flashcards ahead.
  • Remove the flashcard the student lands on. They should play (or answer) that flashcard.
  • Roll again and repeat. Since you are steadily removing flashcards, the circle will get smaller and smaller.
  • The game ends when all the flashcards have been removed. The student can choose one gift out of the box as a reward.





Slash the Note Race

Here’s a game to practice note reading. It’s based loosely on any number of digital games where you have to slash, shoot, or twist a series of items before the time runs out.

What You Need:

  • At least two pages with notes on it. You can use copies of actual music, or you could use any number of note drills like this one from Making Music Fun or this one from Susan Paradis.
  • Sheet protectors
  • A set of cards with A through G on it, shuffled
  • Whiteboard markers
  • Timer


  • Put your pages of notes in the sheet protectors.

How to Play:

  • The student draws a card to determine what note to look for. If necessary, go over where those notes are on the staff, so they have it in mind. You can do this just by talking it through, or you can show them a flashcard with the note on it, depending on the age and skill level of the student.
  • Set the timer. I generally start with 45 seconds for the student.
  • When the timer starts, hand the student one of the sheet protectors with music in it. The student has 45 seconds to use a marker and slash through each instance of the note on their sheet.
  • As the teacher, I have to wait until there are only ten seconds left before I can begin slashing the notes on my sheet. (Having only ten seconds means I generally can’t finish the sheet, which brings my score down below the student’s score.)
  • When time is up, swap sheets for scoring. Both teacher and student get two points for each correct slash, but they lose one point for each note they slashed incorrectly or should have slashed and didn’t. There is also a four point bonus for having found everything on the page.
  • If time permits, play another round with a different note. Vary the amount of time according to the student’s ability.


  • To make it easier, use music that only has treble or bass clef on it and stays within one position. For example, music where the only C will be Middle C.
  • To make it harder, use more complicated music with lots of notes, including notes that are in harmonic intervals or notes where a key signature needs to be taken into account.
  • To make it harder or easier, give either the student or yourself a different amount of time to complete the task.