Jenga (How to Drill Anything)

I have seen a couple of different versions of music Jenga on various blogs.  Mostly people write note values or something of like that on their blocks. But I like a lot more flexibility than something written in permanent marker.  Here is my version.

What you need:

  • Jenga
    • Use two or three types of small stickers and stick one to each block in the set.
    • To be totally honest, my set is old and some of the stickers have fallen off. That’s not a problem. My three categories are star stickers, smiley face stickers, and no sticker at all.
  • Flash cards for whatever you want to drill
    • Use two or three different sets or split one set into different piles. Each set should be assigned to one type of sticker.
    • One set can even be something as simple as measure numbers in the student’s current song.


  • Create a Jenga tower according to the rules of the regular game.

How to play:

  • Each player draws a digital block and places it on top just like in regular Jenga.
  • Depending on what stickers on that block the player must also answer flash card before moving on.
  • Play until the tower falls or you run out of time.




Suspend (How to Drill Anything)

This balancing game is one of the kids’ favorites. I like it too, since it’s infinitely customizable to each student. It does require owning a specific game, but you can do a similar thing with blocks or plastic cups, if that’s easier to get.

What You Need:

  • Suspend (a Melissa and Doug Family Game)
  • Flashcards of anything (optional)


  • Set up the basic stand for the game.
  • The game comes with a die that has six colors on it. Assign a different type of flashcard or challenge for each color. For example, note names, rhythms, chords, key signatures, improv duets, play by ear challenges, sight reading, review songs, hard spots in their current song, etc. You can even leave one color to be a freebie.

How to Play:

  • Ignore the rule book entirely.
  • The student rolls the die and completes the challenge for that color. Then she can place a metal stick of that color on the stand.
  • Repeat.
  • If anything falls off the stand, just add it back into the pile at the bottom.




Giant Staff—Twister (Music Twist)

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 bass clef
    • It doesn’t have to match the size of the staff. Mine doesn’t.
  • Cards with the musical alphabet on them, such as these
  • Hand and foot cards


  • Lay out your giant staff and place the clef.

How to Play:

  • The teacher draws a hand/foot card and a letter card and calls them out. The student has to place that body part on that note.
  • If they are still more or less upright when the time runs out or the cards run out, they win.
  • If they fall down, just start from scratch.
Giant Staff—Twister

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.



Dreidel (Music Twist)

Yesterday was the first day of Hanukkah. None of my students are Jewish (nor am I), so I thought it was unlikely that any of them had ever played dreidel before (nor had I). My total knowledge of the game comes from My Jewish Learning. We used it to drill rhythms, but as always, it is easily modifiable to drill anything else.

What you need:

  • A dreidel.
    • These are not expensive. Think Oriental Trading Company, Amazon, etc.
  • Cards with whatever you want to drill. I used rhythm cards.
  • Game tokens of any kind.
    • Mine are from the game Reversi, but you could also use pennies, pencil erasers, small chocolates, whatever.
  • Paper and pencil (optional)


  • Distribute tokens evenly between the players. I went with six each, but the actual amount doesn’t matter much. Add some to a center pile as well. I put four in.

How to Play:

  • The first player spins the dreidel. There are four possible outcomes:
    • ש – The player adds a token to the center pile, and count and clap a rhythm on from the stack of flashcards.
    • ח – The player gets half the tokens in the center pile and must invent a rhythm, write it out, and count and clap it.
    • ב – The player gets all the tokens in the center pile and must write out a rhythm that the other player claps.
    • נ – The player does nothing.
  • When the lesson time is over, the person with the most tokens wins.


If you thought through the statistics, you’ll have noticed that the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of having an empty center pile. Plus it’s all random chance, and I always like to make sure my students win, so here are a few tips:

  • Sometimes I make a mistake in my counting and clapping. If the student can catch me and do it right, they get the tokens I was supposed to collect. If I was supposed to add a token to the pile, I have to add double. I used this strategically whenever I was supposed to get a fair number of tokens.
  • When the center pile has been empty for a couple of turns, it gets boring. A couple of times, I just told the student I was going to cheat and add a few more tokens to the center pile. I did not tell them that I only did that when it was their turn. That increases the likelihood that they end up with those tokens, not me.