Here is a Halloween-themed way to review the notes while creating a decoration for your studio. It’s sure to thrill kids. Except for my own daughter, who said it was creepy and she didn’t want to touch the eyeballs. Other than her, everyone loved it.
What You Need:
- A set of monster eyeballs. These are available at dollar stores around Halloween.
- A bag big enough to hold your monster eyeballs.
- A clear vase, bowl, or other container.
- Flashcards or a sheet of piano music.
- Before the lesson, use a permanent marker to write note names on each of the eyeballs.
- Put all the eyeballs in the bag.
- If you’re using flashcards, lay them out face up, but not in order.
How to Play:
- The student reaches in the bag and draws out an eyeball.
- The student then looks through the flashcards or sheet music and finds a note that matches the letter on the eyeball.
- If they correctly find the match, the student can add the eyeball to the vase to add to your Halloween decorations.
- For pre-readers, have them play the note on the piano instead of looking for it on the staff.
- For readers who haven’t yet learned all the notes, limit the flashcards to the ones they have learned. You may also want to use treble clef notes separately from bass clef notes.
- For more advanced readers, use flashcards or music with lots of ledger lines, or you can require them to find not the note on the eyeball, but a note that is a third above that note (or a fifth or whatever).
If I found this activity on someone else’s blog, I’d probably roll my eyes and move on. I would never, ever, ever go out and actually buy the equipment to make this work. But maybe you already have a remote controlled car or other such device. Or have a neighbor or friend with kids who’ve outgrown those toys. Or, like me, you could have an absolutely wonderful public library that let’s you check out a LEGO EV3 robot for free for two weeks. If those apply to you, some of your kids will love this activity. If not, just roll your eyes and move on.
What You Need:
- A remote controlled car, truck, robot, or whatever
- Painter’s tape
- Flashcards or a list of whatever it is you want to drill
- Flashcards could have rhythms to clap, notes on the staff to name, alphabetic notes to play on the keyboard, key signatures to identify, etc.
- If you’re using this to drill sections of a song, the list is optional, depending on how sneaky you are. See below.
- Use the painter’s tape to create a track on the floor. Put in as many turns and intersections as you like.
- Use the sharpie to write on numbers at turns, intersections, or really wherever you want. I used numbers one through twelve.
- Test your device to make sure the batteries are working and you know how to use it. When you’re done, replace your device at the starting point.
How to Play:
- The student gets five seconds (as counted by me) to drive the device to one of the numbers on the track. They do not have to go in order. Theoretically, they should stay on the track and not take off cross country, but if they do, it’s okay.
- When the five seconds are up, choose the number they’re closest to. For example, let’s say they got to number four.
- If you’re using flashcards, choose the fourth card in your stack. (Or the fifth, if they’re on number 5, etc.)
- If you’re trying to drill sections of a song, choose the fourth measure, line, phrase, trouble spot, or section to work on for several minutes or play three times in a row, depending on what makes sense for the age and ability of your student.
- If the song only has four phrases, but the car is at number six, just keep counting through the song again, so that 1 and 5 are the same phrase, 2 and 6 are the same phrase, etc.
- If you want, you can assign some numbers to be brain breaks, such as an improv or play by ear activity. You can also skip over phrases the student already knows really well. This is where sneakiness comes in. You can either write all this out in advance so you’re consulting a list at each point, or you can write out nothing and just pretend to consult a list. Meanwhile, you really manipulate the activity so that they work on what you need them to work on and get a brain break when they need one, regardless of where the robot goes. None of my students figured it out.
Most of my students love doing improv, but I find that the ability to create a good melody is very unevenly distributed among them. Some of them create great melodies just on instinct, and I don’t need to do much but encourage. Others stare at me blankly, repeat a broken C major chord over and over, or play an endless succession of one-fingered quarter notes that seem to be chosen at random. Regardless of their ability level, this exercise can help them think outside the box and create more interesting melodies.
What You Need:
- Piano Music (Whatever piece the student is currently working on is fine.)
- Blank paper
- Writing Utensil
- Cards with various curves on them. I use a set I drew by hand in about 5 minutes, but you could also print and cut up these.
What to Do:
- With the student, take a look at the piano music. Use the blank paper to draw the shape of the melody in the first phrase. Explain it as you go: “See how the second note goes up from the first? I’m going up on my paper. Then it stays there for three beats, so I’m going to draw a straight line. Then it jumps down to a lower note.”
- Have the student draw the melody of the second phrase.
- Whenever the student has got the idea, go back to the piano. Have the student pick one of the cards and create a melody based on that shape. It does not matter which way is up on the card: you can create different melodies depending on which way you hold it. Some of my kids needed me to do the first card to get them the idea. Some of them also needed several tries to get it right.
- After you’ve done several shapes individually, you can string them together to create a song. The student shouldn’t be doing any left hand accompaniment at this point, but you can do some as a duet part.
- If you’re doing this as improv, you’re done. If you’re doing it as a composition, you can then help your student write out the melody they’ve just created.
Here’s a rhythm activity I used this week with all my students. The basic version here is okay, but bland. It’s enormously more interesting if you use one or more of the variants below.
What You Need:
- Lay out your cards in a circle and place the bottle in the middle.
- Pick a time signature and write it on your paper.
How to Play:
- Have the student spin the bottle. When it stops spinning, they should draw that note after the time signature on the paper.
- Ask the students how many beats they have left in the measure. If it’s not complete, they spin again until it is. If they get a note that is too big to fit in the rest of the measure, they should fill out the measure with one (and only one) note that will complete it.
- When the measure is complete, have them count and clap it.
- Build a second measure with the same method. When it’s complete, they should count and clap both measures in succession.
- Repeat until you run out of time.
- To make it easier, limit the types of notes you include, such as only quarter notes and half notes.
- To make it harder, include harder notes such as sixteenths and triplets.
- To drill on a new rhythm concept, such as eighth notes, put a lot of the same card out so they are more likely to get that rhythm.
- To make it more exciting, include a Wild card. Wild means they can choose a percussion instrument from a selection you provide to play and count their rhythms.
- To reinforce after you have several measures, clap (or play) it as a round. Take turns being the person who starts or the person who starts at the beginning when the first person has made it to the second measure.
- To use as an improv technique, have them improv a melody on the piano based on the rhythms they created.
So much of music comes down to drill, and I’ve never yet had a student who didn’t enjoy this method of doing it.
What You Need:
- A set of plastic cups (any number you want).
- With a permanent marker, write a challenge on each one. For example, you could say Section 1, Section 2, Section 3, Section 4, Trouble Spot, Improv, Play by Ear, Review Song, Curved Fingers, Name that Note, Rhythm Flashcard, etc. It’s good if the majority of them are drill that need to be done, with just a sprinkling of more fun ones like improv or review song. My set has duplicates of the four section numbers so we can get to those sections more than once.
- Determine which part of the student’s current piece should be Section 1, which part should be Section 2.
How to Play:
- The student builds a cup tower. Whichever cup makes the tower fall is the next challenge. The student then has to do whatever is written on the cup, whether it’s play that section of the piece, clap a rhythm, name the notes on a predetermined number of flashcards, play a section with perfectly curved fingers, etc. Depending on the length of your sections, you may want to say they have to play it three times or just once, or that they have to play it until you are satisfied with the quality.
- Then build another cup tower and accept the next challenge.
While students of all ages enjoy this, the danger is that the older ones with better fine motor skills will spend a long time making a very good cup tower that doesn’t fall, and not get to the actual music. Here are some additional rules to make it harder. I usually start out without any of these rules, until I see how good they are at the cup tower and whether I need to do this.
- No more than three (or even two) cups can touch the ground.
- The teacher is allowed to randomly be a hurricane and attempt to blow things down.
- The student must jump on the ground next to the tower after every third cup to see if an earthquake can dislodge it.