Here is a great improv to do for St. Patrick’s Day, but Irish music is great at any time of year, so there’s no need to limit it to March! Many of my early students have never played in 6/8 time, so this is a great opportunity to talk about time signatures.
How to Use:
- Demonstrate the pattern.
- Teach it by rote. Repeat until the student is confident.
- Have the student play the pattern while you make up a melody above it using the notes of the A minor scale.
- Switch parts.
- Change the key signature. Any minor scale will work. But you could also try it in major. Does it still sound Irish?
- Add grace notes to the melody. Irish music is big on grace notes, which many students have never played. They can even use notes outside of the scale (black notes) and quickly slide off them onto the scale notes.
- Accelerando. Some Irish music starts slow/moderately but at the end gets faster and faster for a dramatic finish. If you do this, add a crescendo as well.
- Vary the pattern. The pattern doesn’t have to be static. As written the four notes in each measure jump from the lower octave up to the higher octave and then from the higher octave down to the lower octave. You could try it with the same rhythm but jump from low to high and then low to high again. You could also change the quarter notes into to two eighth notes.
- Instead of making up the melody, try it with a lead sheet.
I don’t generally hand out candy at lessons. But for the occasional holiday I will make an exception. This year it was Valentine’s Day, since the kids around here no longer get any candy at school. But there is no reason why this has to be a Valentine’s Day game.
What You Need:
- Flashcards for whatever you want to drill
- I did it with cards with the note names on them. Depending on the student’s level, they either had to find the note on the keyboard or on the staff or play a major chord based on that note or play a major scale based on that note.
- A handful of extra flashcards that say “Be careful! Answer the next one right to earn a treat!”
- It is important that these cards feel the same as the original flashcards: same size, same paper weight, etc.
- If you are using pre-made, laminated flashcards, you could even use a whiteboard marker to write it on a few of the cards.
- An opaque bag or box to hold your flashcards.
- A bowl of small treats.
- Shuffle your flashcards (all of them) and place them in the bag or bowl.
How to Play:
- The student draws a card.
- If it’s a regular card, they answer the question. If it’s a treat card, keep it in hand, but draw another card and answer that one. If they get it wrong, toss the treat card back in the bag. If they get it right, set the treat card to the side.
- When all the cards in the box are gone (or you run out of time), count up the number of treat cards you have on the side. Choose that many small treats out of the bowl.
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.
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.